Frank Sanchez had an interesting Tuesday morning, as he found out that his opponent on this Saturday’s pay-per-view card in Florida, Carlos Negron, was forced out of their bout after testing positive for COVID-19.
Yet by the early evening, Sanchez was checked into his hotel with a new opponent, Christian Hammer, and not a care in the world when it comes to this weekend’s festivities.
“It didn't affect me at all,” said Sanchez through a translator. “These are the kind of things that can happen in boxing, and I'm ready for whatever comes my way, be it a change in opponent or whatever kind of circumstance that may change. I'm always gonna be able to adapt and come out even better on the other end.”
As for Germany’s Hammer, Sanchez has seen enough of his new foe to believe the 34-year-old isn’t going to be the one to put a mark in his loss column.
“I have him well measured, well studied by now,” said Sanchez. “I was able to see some of his fights this afternoon and I can see that he fought against really good opponents, but I got him measured up and I'm ready to face him on Saturday night.”
A win would be the perfect way for the 29-year-old to kick off what may be the biggest year of his pro career, which comes on the heels of a pretty impressive 2021 campaign that saw him improve to 19-0 with 13 knockouts thanks to wins over Nagy Aguilera and Efe Ajagba.
It was the victory over the previously unbeaten Ajagba on the Fury-Wilder III card in October that really opened eyes to what Sanchez brings to the heavyweight division, as he handled the hard-hitting Nigerian with relative ease, dropping him once en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision win. And yeah, it was as easy as it looked for “The Cuban Flash.”
“To be honest with you, I thought it was gonna be harder for me, that he was gonna apply a little more pressure,” said Sanchez. “But in the end, I had a pretty easy time with it.”
Most believe this weekend’s bout with Hammer should see a similar result, and then if he has his way, the stakes will get higher throughout the rest of 2022.
“I do feel like I'm ready to fight against the best of the best, the elite, the top fighters in the world,” said Sanchez. “And 2022 is the year where I hope to get a shot at the title and start to shine and to make my dream come true.”
It’s not just Sanchez’ dream to put a world title belt around his waist; it’s the dream for a nation that has never had a world heavyweight king in the pro ranks, and a fascination ever since Cuban boxers started trading blows in the prize rings outside of their native country.
“I don't quite know what the fascination is with it, but I can tell you that plenty of fighters have had their opportunity without being able to make the most of it,” Sanchez said. “But I'm on the right path, on my way to having my shot to making that ambition come true and I believe I'm ready to make that fascination a reality.”
The man who headlines Saturday’s event, Luis Ortiz, came close in his fights with Deontay Wilder in 2018 and 2019. Odlanier Solis challenged Vitali Klitschko for the belt in 2011, only to get halted in a single round. And there were contenders like Nino Valdes and Omelio Agramonte who made noise in the sport’s glamour division but never got their shot at gold. But the two heavyweight greats from Cuba were a pair who didn’t step into the ring as professionals – Olympic legends Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon.
“I got to meet them both, actually, but the one that was more of a mentor to me was Stevenson,” said Sanchez. “Before he passed away, he told me that my movement and my jab were the fundamentals to my success, and if I used them correctly, I could reach the stars. That was the advice I remember the most from him.”
Stevenson passed away in 2012 at the age of 60. Four years later, Sanchez left Cuba to chase his boxing dreams in the United States. Today, he’s closing in on them, for himself and for Cuba. Is that a lot of pressure?
“Absolutely, you said it,” he laughs.
But if Sanchez gets there, and gets that belt, oh what a party that will be.
“I can tell you this, there will be phenomenal happiness for everyone that will be watching that, and everyone will be so proud,” he said. “And most importantly, it will be etched in the history of Cuba and that's priceless.”