From being a state champion in wrestling at Montgomery Central High School in Clarksville, Tenn., to becoming an undefeated mixed martial artist in the Music City, Luke Sanders has quickly become one of the top prospects in the sport. Sanders had previously never fought or trained outside of the state for a long period of time, but he had the opportunity to do so at one of the top MMA gyms in the United States before his return to the cage on Oct. 18 at XFC 26: Night of Champions III.

The 27-year-old had plans to travel away from home to train, but an injury halted most of those plans. However, Sanders was able to fly to Glendale, Ariz., for a visit to The MMA Lab, the training home of former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and many other UFC and Bellator fighters.

“It was an awesome experience to get to train with the best coaches in a great facility,” Sanders told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “It was a blessing, and unbelievable. I learned so much and got a lot of experience while I was out there. Everybody was super cool, with great guys and world champions to train and talk with.

“It was 100 percent professional. It’s the type of training you’re supposed to do at that level.”

Sanders (Jack Bratcher/ProMMANow)

Sanders says he plans on continued training at The Lab, but as for right now, he feels he has done everything he can do to prepare for Friday night’s fight at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.

In 2012, Sanders put on an impressive display to earn a TKO stoppage over Zachary Sanders at XFC 18. He has since added another victory over Javon Wright in a regional show. Now, he’ll have another chance to prove himself against the toughest opponent of his career, Zach Underwood.

Underwood holds an 11-4 record, including a three-fight winning streak dating back to 2012. “Thunderwood” has competed with promotions such as Strikeforce, Bellator and XFC, with 11 of his 14 fights going the distance.

“He’s a tough guy and pretty well-rounded,” Sanders said. “He’s got a good record and has beaten some good guys, so that’s what I’m looking forward to. He’s kind of got a grinding style and tries to wear people down. So he can try to wear me down if he wants, but I’m going to be there regardless. It’s not going to be a walk in the park.”

When it comes to MMA in Tennessee, this is a highly anticipated match-up that locals have been waiting a long time to see. These two men sit at the top of the state’s featherweight division. Their fight, the first contest to air when the event goes live on AXS TV, could be considered a bout to determine the state’s top 145-pound fighter.

“Definitely,” Sanders agreed. “We’re considered first and second. There’s some other tough 145ers, but I don’t think any of them are on the level with me and Zach. I believe we’re the best 145-pound fighters in the state, for sure, and we’ll determine that on Oct. 18.”

So what does a win for Sanders on Friday night do for him exactly? Well, let’s just say he is setting the bar high for himself.

“A win ensures me that everything I’m doing is right. It puts me 6-0, where I need to be, and hopefully it’s gonna allow me to get a call from the man with the three letters U-F-C on my phone,” Sanders said.

Sanders has gained interest from organizations such as Bellator, Maximum Fighting Championship and the XFC, among others, following his last fight that was broadcast on AXS TV. He’s certainly appreciative of his current employer, but without a long-term deal in place with the XFC, he expects scouts, including those from the UFC, to be watching the fight.

Sanders (Facebook)

“I’m sure they’ll watch it,” he said. “The XFC is a top up-and-coming organization, and I think me and [Underwood] are the only two on the card not signed with the XFC. I know there are several other organizations out there that I have talked with after my last fight. I’m sure there will be a UFC scout watching it.

“They want the new best talent, and especially since it’s live on TV, they wanna see who is the new best unsigned talent. Whoever gets that guy first is one step ahead on trying to build their organization.”

Sanders says there is no added pressure with scouts watching him. It’s all about being right mentally and having confidence to go out and perform. He’ll look to put on a show Friday night in front of his hometown, where things began, with family and friends representing a fighter who has found success both on the mats and in the cage.

As for a prediction, Sanders says you’re just going to have to find out for yourself.

“You’ll have to tune in on Oct. 18, but expect to see Luke Sanders with his hand raised at the end.”

Luke would like to thank iJunkiez Phone Repair, Lotus Energy Drink, The MMA Lab, Nashville MMA, Vibrant Image and Redneck Crazy, which is a cross-promotion he is doing with country artist Tyler Farr. He is also very thankful to the XFC for the opportunities they have afforded him. Follow Luke on Twitter: @sandersmma

Photo: Luke Sanders (R) (Jack Bratcher/ProMMANow.com)

About The Author

Corey Adams
Staff Writer

Corey Adams didn't grow up watching mixed martial arts, considering the UFC was just getting started the year he was born, but in his teenage years, witnessed the action and has fallen in love with the sport. Corey was the first to join The MMA Corner staff -- other than founder Josh Davis -- and has been writing for the site ever since. Corey attends Austin Peay State University, where he majors in Communications with a focus on journalism. When he's not covering MMA, Corey is still writing on many sports with both local and campus newspapers. His favorite sports teams are the Atlanta Braves and Denver Broncos. Follow him on Twitter at the link below.