This is the continuation of our Feature interview series, designed to share the inspiring stories of the GAMMA family – passionate and committed individuals who come together for their love of MMA.
The uniqueness of every individual and their respective journeys through life and MMA is something that GAMMA is very proud of. During PRIDE month we have been speaking to our global family to understand the power sport has to empower people.
We spoke to USA MMA star, the 2019 GAMMA World Champion, Laura Sanchez who shared her story with us.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
GAMMA: When did you first become passionate about sports? Did you like all sports or did one or two always stand out for you?
LS: I’ve been an athlete since I can remember. Growing up, I played soccer, basketball, swam, and always wanted to be in a martial art. Martial Arts wasn’t possible for me at the time because my parents were supporting four kids, so we all took part in other sports and I fell in love with basketball.
GAMMA: You made the transition from top-level basketball to MMA. What prompted that switch?
LS: Since I always wanted to be in Martial Arts, I knew I would find my way there eventually, even if I was still playing basketball. I just wanted to learn and towards the end of my basketball career, I was already taking classes at Roufusport in Milwaukee. Once basketball was done, I decided to do something I always wanted to do, I went right into MMA.
GAMMA: You were crowned GAMMA World Champion in 2019, please tell us about the experience.
LS: Unforgettable. Singapore is a beautiful place and I got to meet people from different countries. It was nerve-racking to think about having multiple bouts in a day, but I trained so hard beforehand and I believe it showed in my fights, as they didn’t last very long. It felt kind of surreal to be on stage and receive my gold medal. It’s an accomplishment that no one can take from me and my name is etched in history as the first Women’s U.S. GAMMA Lightweight World Champion. I’m one of only a small percentage of people in this world who can legitimately call themselves a “World Champion” and that feels good.
GAMMA: As an organisation, GAMMA celebrates the diversity and uniqueness of all our athletes, especially during PRIDE month, and we are very happy to be able to speak to you about your journey as an athlete and a member of the LGBTQ community. Please tell us about your journey.
LS: I didn’t come out with my girlfriend until more recently as it was an internal struggle for a long time. As I wasn’t putting my relationship out there in the public eye until more recently, the MMA community hasn’t had the opportunity to support me too much. No one knew this personal side of my life and the internal struggle I was facing. I know some people had ideas about me, but they didn’t know anything. When you hide such a huge part of yourself from the world and the closest people to you, I don’t think you can truly be happy. You’re uncomfortable wherever you go because you don’t feel like you can be your genuine self.
When I finally spoke with my closest friends and teammates, I think they saw that weight lifted and a happiness and freedom they’d never seen from me before. They were happy for me and showed nothing but love and support.
GAMMA: You are a role model not only for your sporting achievements but for sharing your story. How important is it that young people have such role models, especially in combat sports?
LS: It’s important to show others that it’s possible. Everyone has doubts and fears, but you can’t let fear hold you back. You need to have the courage to face your fears and accomplish things that the world might tell you are impossible. In combat sports, there seems to be another added level of doubt and criticism that people tend to have. Combat sports are tougher than any other sport I have been a part of and it’s easy to get discouraged. In this sport criticism can come from every direction, but success is 90% mental, it’s about your mentality. Whether involved in combat sports or not, to me, the idea should always be to do what you love, remember why you do it, and do it for yourself. I adopt the same mentality whether it’s in combat sports or everyday life.
GAMMA: What would you say to any young athletes that may be struggling with their sexual orientation?
LS: Love and accept yourself – that’s the first step. The internal struggle is something that only those who have gone through it would truly understand. Once you love and accept yourself and you decide to start talking to others about it, you must prepare your mind, understand, and accept that other people may not react the way you desire. It’s not your job to make someone understand you, you need to be able to move on and live your life on your own terms.
I didn’t tell the world until I was 31 years old. I waited a long time, but my personal struggle lasted a long time before I accepted myself. There is no pressure for you to figure yourself out right away, take your time.
GAMMA: With the sports world now fully back to life after the pandemic, what are your next goals in MMA?
LS: I am open right now. I moved to Las Vegas in September of 2021 and am now training at Syndicate MMA and Zenith by Robert Drysdale. I’m consistently training and just working to get better every day. When the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready!
To read more from this series, see our interview with Alexa Lucido.