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Sanchez finds his niche in jiu-jitsu

La Cañada High graduate is looking to do some damage in the MMA world after discovering a passion for jiu-jitsu.

October 26, 2011|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com
(Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

In three years, Orlando "The Cuban Tree Stump" Sanchez has gone from an introduction in jiu-jitsu to becoming a brown belt and head instructor/owner of the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu School in Pasadena.

"I am one of the fastest Americans ever to get a brown belt," said Sanchez, who graduated from La Cañada High in 2000. "I am just progressing at such an amazing rate."

The rapid growth is a credit to how important jiu-jitsu has been in Sanchez' life.

"It's been a driving force for really changing people's lives for the better," he said.

That's definitely the case with Sanchez.

Alberto Crane, a former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, introduced him to jiu-jitsu a few years after he graduated from Azusa Pacific University at age 26. Sanchez had always been a competitor, primarily in football at La Cañada High and Azusa Pacific, but lost that competitive fire after college when he got into drugs and alcohol.

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"Jiu-jitsu really saved my life," Sanchez said. "It all started with Alberto. I owe it all to him, he really changed my life and walked me down this path."

Since then, Sanchez, a La Cañada native and Pasadena resident, has won 10 jiu-jitsu tournaments in three years, including the Gracie Nationals, Grapplers Quest, the Pan-American Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship and the Abu Dhabi World PRO North American trials.

"It's definitely not typical [for someone to progress so quickly]," said Crane, who gave Sanchez his nickname "The Cuban Tree Stump" after being unable to move him when demonstrating a sit-up sweep on him. "He's a natural. He's been working really hard and accomplished a lot in a short period of time."

Sanchez' former La Cañada High football Coach Rich Wheeler wasn't surprised to hear his former All-American nose guard had found his niche.

"It wasn't a matter of whether Orlando was going to be successful or not," Wheeler said. "It was a matter of what, when and how. He was always into the weights and body building, he just needed the proper place and setting."

Now that the 29-year old Sanchez has made his mark in jiu-jitsu, he's looking to do some damage in the world of mixed martial arts.

"I want to take [MMA] as far as I can," Sanchez said. "I want to be the best that I can be, and I think if I can be the best that I can be that I will be the UFC champion."

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