A little less than a year ago Diego ‘Nightmare’ Sanchez was adamant that this was his time to shine as he prepared for the biggest fight of his career, a lightweight title shot against BJ Penn at UFC 107.
As it turned out the past year has been the worst of his career, seeing him slump to consecutive losses in convincing fashion.
The Penn fight showed that the 28 year-old was still short of where he needed to be to compete with the very best the UFC had to offer. Rather than focus on improving Sanchez decided that a move back up to 170lbs was the answer, though a subsequent defeat to the up and coming UK prospect John Hathaway suggested otherwise.
After that fight Sanchez finally came to the realization that he needed more than just an unshakable self-belief in order to continue to be a force in the promotion.
“I’ve made some mistakes in my career, I’ve made some bad decisions,” Sanchez admitted to UFC.com earlier this week.
A major step in the right direction was returning to Greg Jackson’s camp in New Mexico where he had enjoyed significant success with before leaving in 2007.
Now, overshadowed by the big fight hype for Lesnar Vs Velasquez, the debut of Jake Shields and the return of Tito Ortiz, Sanchez gets back into the octagon on Saturday night looking to get back to winning ways.
The UFC are not giving him an easy fight to get back on his feet though. Paulo Thiago is himself coming off a decision loss to Martin Kampmann, but prior to that wins over Josh Koscheck (who holds a win over Sanchez), Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick saw him step into title mix at 170lbs.
Sanchez sees him as a tough, but beatable opponent who perhaps has flattered to deceive a little in his UFC career so far.
What’s interesting though is that whether he wins or loses, Sanchez isn’t planning to stick around at 170lbs.
“I do plan on dropping back to 155 after this fight,” he told UFC.com. “Me and Greg (Jackson) and the team are just gonna work together and see what (UFC matchmaker) Joe (Silva) can get lined up for me. And like I said, my whole mindset is to earn the victory and that’s it.”
Personally I think Sanchez made a big mistake by leaving the lightweight division in the first place, and so it’s good to see that Jackson appears to have talked some sense into him. Realistically he was never going to be a major factor at 170lbs with the likes of GSP, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and the like ruling the roost.
The 155lb weight class is a different story though. It’s currently in a transitional phase and with BJ Penn at least temporarily out of the picture the division is short on star power and open to potential title challengers. There’s also unfinished business with Kenny Florian who he defeated in the TUF season 1 finale back in 2005 when the two were fighting at 185lbs.
It makes Saturday night’s fight at 170lbs a somewhat awkward and unnecessary encounter, but whatever the outcome it appears that there’s still light at the end of the tunnel for Sanchez.