Martin Sano Jr makes his UFC debut at UFC 266. Daniel Vreeland takes a look at what makes the debuting prospect stand out.

The Stats

NameMartin “The Spartain” Sano Jr.
FromVallejo, California
ClassWelterweight (170lbs)
Reach74 inches
Pro Record4-2-1
Last PromotionBellator FC

The Lowdown

To a lot of people, it came as a shock to see someone like Sano Jr. show up on the UFC’s roster. After all, he hasn’t won a fight since 2014 and hasn’t even fought since 2017. He’s just 0-2-1 in his last three fights and seemingly has less than zero momentum in his career. He is, however, friends and training partners with Nick Diaz. Diaz seems to have worked into the agreement for this fight that he’d get to bring along a couple of training partners for their debuts. Nick Maximov, who previously was not offered a contract after his Contender Series bout, is also getting a shot despite not having a fight since then. This pick seems a bit more egregious given what Sano Jr. has accomplished so far.

From a stylistic standpoint, Sano Jr. has some of the traits that you’d expect from a Diaz trained fighter. He moves forward with no fear whatsoever. He also has some pretty solid jiu jitsu from the top control positions. However, where he differs is what he looks like on the bottom. Compared to Nick or Nate, Sano Jr. really struggles off of his back. In his most recent fight, he looked like a fish out of water after being taken down. However, he did bounce back from the early part of that fight and earn himself a draw, which is indicative of his will and grittiness.

What to Expect Saturday

Sano Jr. enters this fight on Sunday as a massive underdog (+370) to Matthew Semelsberger. In fact, he’ll be the biggest underdog on the card with the exception of Lauren Murphy, who has the daunting task of dealing with Valentina Shevchenko. There is good reason to feel that way too. Sano Jr. has trouble off of his back last time, and this time he faces a fighter with a wrestling base and a great blast double. He also leads with his head in exchanges and moves forward recklessly. This works on some people, but typically not on people with the composure and raw KO power that Semelsberger often demonstrates.

I expect the path to victory for Sano Jr. has to be through his top control. The biggest problem with that is that I have no idea how he’ll get the fight there. Not only does he not have the wrestling that Semelsberger has, but he also is going to be giving up two inches of height and three inches of reach. Against a guy who does a good job maintaining distance when he wants to, I can’t imagine that going well for Sano Jr.

Martin Sano Jr.vsMatthew Semelsberger
5′ 11Height (in)6′ 1
72Reach (in)75
Martin Sano Jr. vs Matthew Semelsberger

What to Expect Long-Term

With the skills he showed last time out, combined with his age, it’s hard to be too positive about his chances of a sustained time in the UFC. He fights just a little too dangerously and hasn’t been all that successful. It’s also not like either Nick or Nate Diaz are on cards often enough to encourage the UFC to give Sano Jr. a second kick at the can. On the other hand, there is always a chance that he has made vast improvements since his last time out. It has been 4 years and working with some top-notch guys.

If asked to give a final prediction on his career, I would expect that he doesn’t win a fight in the UFC. Furthermore, if he gets beat badly here, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his only fight.

Daniel "Gumby" Vreeland has been an MMA writer for over a decade. He currently hosts The Top Turtle Podcast and is a member of the UFC's ranking panel.