Making the transition from basketball to MMA is not a very well-traversed path. Almost none have done it. Laura Sanchez is of the few that have. Turning pro this year and a product of Roufusport, Sanchez recently signed with the PFL as an addition to their world-first women’s lightweight division. She is the best pound for pound women’s fighter in Minnesota according to Tapology. Being a resident of Milwaukee, it was almost destiny that Sanchez and MMA guru, Duke Rufus, linked up.
Sanchez forged her athletic abilities through basketball and was a Division 1 player. She used her work-eithc gained from basketball and applied it to her newly-minted MMA career. But, MMA wasn’t always the endgame. Laura Sanchez did hope to play professional basketball at one point in time. But, without the connections, she found her way to the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I played basketball since I can remember so I usually just tell people the third grade. I always wanted to fight as well but that wasn’t affordable for my parents because they were paying for our private school for my siblings and myself. So, I opted for basketball and was determined that because we had to take care of our own college, because my parents didn’t work everything out through high school. I was able to get a Division 1 scholarship. I used basketball for that. Then, after basketball from college I decided I was going to go professional. I didn’t really have the best connections, I was doing what I could. I made a semi-pro team and made a pro tour team. But they were both so new that they didn’ t really work out. People were working on contracts with other teams. The pro tour team was supposed to Puerto Rico and Brazil and all these other countries. He always said that he was working on the contracts. I didn’t really have the teammates when I came back home to keep playing and keep my skills sharp. Things were just closing down for basketball.”
Sanchez didn’t quite know it, but she was destined for MMA. She looked into boxing and taekwondo originally and found Roufusport which ultimately set her on the path towards the PFL, where she is today.
“I wanted to do something that I always wanted to do and that was some sort of combat sport. I didn’t know what discipline I wanted to do yet. I just started by searching ‘boxing in Milwaukee’ and RoufuSport popped up. I was going to look up boxing and taekwondo and see who was the best place to go learn combat sports. RoufuSports was it. I went there and I started kickboxing. I didn’t really know much about Jiu Jitsu, I actually thought it looked kind of funny. People were just rolling around on the mat and I was like, ‘What are they doing?’ I was just doing kickboxing for a while and I spoke with Duke and he said, ‘MMA would be really good for you. Let me know when you’re done playing basketball.’ I was like, ‘Well, I am.’ So he was like, ‘Try out a Jiu Jitsu class and see how you like it. I have a feeling that you will and then I think MMA would be really good for you.’ I just took off from my MMA career there.”
She played ball at Western Carolina and played in the post, where the bigs played. At 6’0″, Sanchez was tall and long. But, she had a shot to her as well which made her especially dangerous.
“I was the post and then when I went to Western Carolina, I was kind of a post player but they always had me at the 4 where I would be around the perimeter. I had a really good shot. I worked on my jump shot every day. I had a really good range. I was proud of that.”
Part of Laura Sanchez’s success is that she’s never happy with where she’s at and has always looked to improve as an athlete. Looking back on her basketball career, she wishes she changed some things in her preparation for D1.
“I wish that when I was growing up playing ball that I wasn’t stuck in the post. I feel like a lot of people train kids to think that they’re one dimensional. I was tall and I would have been successful playing ball. I didn’t know the things that I needed to. I was tall and lanky and I was a good post player. But I should have worked more on ballhandling too. Who would be able to stop someone like a Kevin Durant? Look at how amazing he is. I should have worked on my ball handling and I think I could have been even better. But as a post player with really good range, I think I was good.”
Aside from MMA, Sanchez still works. “Outside of MMA, I work for GE Healthcare. I am a field support specialist. I basically help some of the engineers who are actually going out in the hospitals who work on machines. I do a lot of stuff within the computers and the network.”
Don’t get it twisted. Sanchez is dedicated to fighting and trains every single day to become better and better as time goes on. “I go to work and train every day.”
Sanchez is dedicated. Basketball is behind her now with the entirety of her free time taken up by her new found MMA career.
“To be honest, I actually don’t even watch basketball anymore. It’s crazy, as soon as I got as serious as I did into MMA, my days are full. I go straight from working to training. I don’t get home until late. I don’t even watch basketball that often.”
Laura Sanchez Turning Pro
Sanchez made her pro deubt in January and secured a unanimous decision victory. But, the road to becoming a professional fighter wasn’t easy and finding fights for Laura Sanchez were always a challenge. Sanchez says there was no weight on her shoulders, instead there was a weight lifted.
“No weight on my shoulder. I was just anxious to actually get there. I was working really hard to get as many fights in as an amateur that I could. Things weren’t working out. I almost stopped fighting. I didn’t even tell Duke or talk to anybody about it. I was training and training and training and not able to get fights. By the time he came up to me and he said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be representing the US at the GAMMA World Championships.’ So I went and it actually happened. For me, I was really hoping that it worked out. Then after that, I made my pro debut. I was almost ready to be done with this because I was working so hard and not getting anywhere. But, now I’m here and I’m a professional. There was no weight on my shoulders, it was just the excitement, I was just excited it was finally happening.”
Laura Sanchez believes she is in the best spot in the world where she fits in perfectly. Names like Sergio and Anthony Pettis, Brendan Allen, Maycee Barber, Paul Felder, Tyron Woodley, and more, Sanchez has a plethora of championship experience to draw from and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to train under such legendary names in the sport.
“Really, I wouldn’t be in Milwaukee if I didn’t think that Duke is the best coach for me. What I mean is that throughout my basketball career, I had different coaches all four years in high school. Then I had two different coaches in college. The thing about Duke is that I realized that in my basketball career, the kind of coach that I need to be successful has got to be the passionate ones that you might think are crazy because they’re so passionate. The thing is that Duke is so experienced and he’s still a student. He’s still learning new things. Before I joined the MMA team, I used to take the kickboxing classes and the Jiu Jitsu classes and I would see him hold pads for Anthony Pettis, or Eric Koch, or Manny Bermudez and I would just sit there and watch and pick up on some things. I just remember sometimes he would be like, ‘Here, let me show you this really cool thing I just learned.’ If you’re under someone who’s already go the resume they have, someone like Duke who is already a world champion and grew up in martial arts, you feel like they know everything I need to know. Well, they’re still learning themselves. I love being under him and being one of his students. I’m always learning something new. I would not still be here if I didn’t think that he’s the best coach for me.”
As for her goals, Laura Sanchez is ambitious. But she insists that in fighting, you have to be. Combat sports is not a sport one should do for fun and she looks to become the PFL World Champion and to defend her title.
“There’s really no point in fighting and competing if you don’t want to be the best. If you’re just going to do it for fun, it’s kind of a rough sport to be in. I want to be the best. I want to win the PFL championship, and then defend it again the next year. I want to set records and make history. What records yet, I don’t know. Either way, I just want to constantly improve as a mixed martial artist where my skills speak for themselves and be known as one of the greatest to ever do it. I have a lot of work to do but at the end of the day, if you don’t set your goals that high, you won’t really be that motivated. I always set my goals higher than what people would expect.”
PFL returns in 2021 and looks to have another spectacular season ahead with even more stars on the roster. Follow Laura Sanchez in Instagram to follow her fight journey. Thanks for reading!