Between short, bridging spells of nervous laughter, the softly spoken Emilio Sanchez (18-1, 11 KOs) seems surprised. He’s surprised that he’s come this far as a boxer after previously pursuing a mixture of American Football and track while studying in North Hollywood. It was only during the athletic off-season that boxing would occupy his schedule; burning up the energy that often spilled over, leading to Emilio becoming another ‘troublemaker’ in the Sanchez home.

“Boxing helped me out a lot,” the 26-year-old featherweight prospect told Boxing Social. “My parents were always good and they did their job, always trying to get me into sport to keep me off the street.

“I have two older brothers and they’re kinda knuckleheads. They weren’t doing too good. One is actually in prison right now; he’s been in there for one year, so I think he’s coming out some time during the summer. And the other one was a gang member, but he’s calmed down. He has a job and he has his own place now, so he’s doing good. It was hard [for me], but my mum and dad really kept me in my lane. I saw those things happening to my brothers – I just didn’t wanna be like them when I grew up.”

His enrolment into the LAPD’s hybrid boxing-education scheme named ‘Jeopardy’ would result in an amateur career spanning almost 100 fights, peaking with a spot at the US Olympic trials and various trips in search of trophies and ranking points. Multiple competitions in Tahiti were Sanchez’s fondest memory from his time in the national vest, but turning professional was always part of the plan.

Sitting down on heavier punches and pacing himself over 6, 8 or 10 rounds has allowed Emilio to utilise different strengths altogether. He spoke of the importance of breaking down opponents as he currently rides a three-fight win streak; bouncing back from a first, shock professional defeat. His time in the paid ranks had been progressing steadily for six years, until Sanchez suffered a devastating stoppage loss, facing seasoned Filipino puncher Eugene Lagos [LTKO2 in March 2018].

Sanchez’s arm is lifted in victory by referee Jack Reiss. Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy.

“Before that fight I had a training camp with Oscar Valdez in Guadalajara, Mexico. I didn’t have a fight date, so I was eating all the tacos over there,” he laughed, making peace with the defeat on reflection. “I was pretty heavy with about a month to go. I think I was like 140lbs, so I had to jump all the way back down to 122lbs. I was really struggling.

“When I lost, I had all kinds of emotions, man. I was sad, I was mad for a few weeks. Then it just motivated me. A lot of people thought I was done and I wouldn’t come back from that fight, because I was knocked out. I came back with three wins and [losing] that fight helped me a lot. I wouldn’t say I was cocky, but I felt like I was untouchable. He kinda humbled me.”

Sanchez, the eldest of two licensed professionals, was extremely grateful when Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions showed continued faith during his darkest hour. “When I was younger, Oscar De La Hoya was somebody that I looked up to. Meeting him and signing with his company was such a big accomplishment for me and for my family,” he said.

“All the sacrifices [my family] made for me when I was younger, I just have to repay them by becoming a world champion. I try to repay them with financial matters. I’m still living with my parents at the moment, but I’m 26 now, I feel good and I’ve got my man strength. I’m so hungry and I just feel like I’m ready for the world title. I think my time is now and it’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Sanchez (right) wobbles Christopher Martin. Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy.

Emilio continues to use that defeat to Lagos as a hurtful reminder, demonstrating the importance of a punishing, professional lifestyle ahead of a mooted fight with reigning WBA Regular world champion Xu Can. The bout has yet to be confirmed by both parties though the hungry Californian underdog is staying ready throughout the current global pandemic, posting pictures or short clips of training on his social media.

Settling in nicely with his coach Joel Diaz and sparring regularly with WBA Super and IBF 122lbs world champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Sanchez could be primed to seize a little slice of history. With manager Frank Espinoza and promoters Golden Boy firmly on board, the pressure is now on their team to finally make it count for something under the bright lights.

The shy, whispery laugh that seems to cover any silence between question and answer is endearing. It’s not typical of a strong, brutal fighting man, but maybe that was Emilio’s greatest attribute – the element of surprise.

“When I first started, I never thought I was gonna make it this far, I’m just being honest. I can’t believe that I’m signed to Golden Boy Promotions, 18-1 with 11 knockouts, but I’m not done yet,” he said. “I want people to remember that I fought the best and that I wasn’t dodging anybody. Going out as a warrior – that’s what I want people to think about me.”

Sanchez (right) trades with Mexican Enrique Bernache. Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy.