When Diego Sanchez steps into the Octagon on Saturday night in Monterrey, Mexico he will be making history.
Not in any grand sense, but historic nonetheless. Sanchez meets Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 78 this weekend, and in doing so he will make his 21st appearance in the organization.
Though not the most fights in company history, (Tito Ortiz, of all people, still holds that record with 27 UFC bouts) it is a testament to Sanchez’ determination and tenacity.
Or, in other words, he doesn’t know how or when to call it good.
Sanchez was the winner of the seminal season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality TV show, and though his TKO win over Kenny Florian was ultimately overshadowed by Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin’s slobberknocker later in the evening, the show truly jump started Sanchez’ career.
Now, with a record of 14-7 under the Zuffa banner, Sanchez stands as the sole TUF season one alumnus still actively competing. In most cases, the question would simply be, “why?”
With so many UFC fights under his belt (including three fight of the year, and seven fight of the night showings), many of which taking place during the sponsorship hey-day that existed many moons ago, you’d think Sanchez would be doing alright financially.
However, given the fact he’s never held the belt and only once challenged for the title, financial concerns could very well be fueling Sanchez’ return to the cage more than a year removed from his last win.
But that’s not it. Even if Diego Sanchez was the richest man in Albuquerque he’d still be lacing up the 4oz gloves for another opportunity to compete; it’s just who he is. You don’t go from this to a quiet exit from the sport willingly.
And unfortunately that’s where it looks like we’re headed. Come Saturday, Sanchez will have competed in four separate UFC weight classes throughout his career, and win or lose, he shows no signs of stopping.
Beginning all the way up at 185lbs, his fight against Ricardo Lamas in the featherweight division will see “The Dream” at his smallest yet, a whole forty pounds lighter than where he began his career in the UFC.
Former peer, foe, and contemporary Kenny Florian had a similar career trajectory, and was also one of the final stowaways from TUF 1 still competing nearly a decade after the show that revolutionized the sport.
And while Sanchez maintains the weight class shuffle is permanent, it’s clear to see that, much like Florian, he’s looking for a late career resurgence that just won’t be there.
Can he beat Ricardo Lamas on Saturday night? Possibly, but given the fact he’s just 4-5 in his last nine bouts (2-7, depending on who you ask) the odds are not in Sanchez’ favor.
But stranger things have happened, and the fight itself has all the potential in the world to be yet another barnburner.
Sooner or later, though, Diego will be forced to answer the hard questions. When, though, remains a mystery.
Unlike other fighters with the same amount of hours of abuse on their record, Sanchez has never been knocked out or submitted in a professional MMA fight. His lone TKO loss to BJ Penn came in the form of a massive cut on his forehead, and had it been up to Sanchez, he probably would have fought through it.
But not losing badly is a poor reason to continue in a sport that makes mincemeat out of those who don’t know when to walk away. While he hasn’t suffered a knockout, the repetitive blows of being in 21 UFC fights (not to mention 11 Pro MMA fights before TUF) will take a toll on anyone.
So here’s hoping this weekend is the final chapter in the book of Sanchez. It was a hell of a read, but it’s time to put it on the shelf between the greats and amongst the classics.
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