It’s amazing how fast time flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago when we watched the quirky Diego Sanchez on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Sanchez would go on to finals of the Middleweight tournament and pound Kenny Florian en route to a TKO victory. Since then Sanchez has managed to keep himself relevant in the UFC but not without having to face adversity.
After earning notable wins over Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan, Joe Riggs and being on the cusp of a welterweight title shot, Sanchez suffered back to back decision losses to AKA members Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Having never tasted defeat and at a crossroads in his career, Diego dropped down to lightweight, left Greg Jackson’s camp and trained with Xande and Saul Ribeiro.
Two straight wins at 155 lbs. over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida catapulted him to his first title shot against BJ Penn. While many believed a longer fight would favor Sanchez, it was Penn who looked the crisper and fresher fighter entering the fifth round. While Sanchez would once again demonstrate the heart of a warrior, the fight would be stopped due to a cut. It was the most damage Sanchez had ever received in any fight and he was dominated from start to finish.
After the loss Diego announced he was moving back to welterweight and faced newcomer John Hathaway in his first fight back at 170. The fight would be Diego’s least inspired effort inside the Octagon and lost via unanimous decision. Coming off the loss Sanchez was once again at a crossroads, this time, in life. Sanchez opened up and admitted to having made wrong decisions in his life and not living it the way he wanted. He revealed that he had been a heavy drinker, pot smoker, and that his party lifestyle was to blame for temporarily derailing his momentum.
He decided he needed to make positive changes in his life and traded in Tony Robbins for Jesus Christ. He also returned to the Jackson camp and in his first fight back with his old team, he outworked and out-wrestled a favored Paulo Thiago. In his last fight, Sanchez was once again bloody and battered, but this time he kept coming forward and pressing the fight against a very durable Martin Kampmann earning the decision victory.
Sanchez credits his renewed success to his belief in religion, making the right decisions, and the support of his old camp.
Sanchez is once again on the cusp of a title shot and standing in his way is Jake Ellenberger. Ellenberger is currently on a five fight win streak and riding his impressive knockout of Jake Shields into their February 15 bout, on Fuel TV.
Diego recently took the time to discuss his thoughts on Ellenberger’s pre fight trash talking, whether we’ll see BJ Penn fight again, fighting Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz, and the guy who stands at top of his fight list.
Let’s talk Jake Ellenberger, he’s coming off five straight wins, but it’s really his last two wins that has people talking about him being next in line for a shot at the title I want to get your reactions on what Ellenberger recently said in regards to his upcoming fight against you.”I can beat him anywhere the fight goes.” he goes on to say…”I am better than him…if he wants to come forward and strike like he normally does, I welcome it.” What are your thoughts when you hear that?
You know what, Jake’s just young and he’s one of those guys who has to say stuff like that to stay motivated. Go read his twitter, “he’s going to break my face”, “nobody wants this more” than him. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy, I don’t really know him. He’s borderline cocky/confident. Back when I was 19-0 I was like that too. With age and experience comes wisdom. Those that exalt themselves will be humbled. Those that humble themselves will be exalted. I’m humbled man; I’m going to fight my best and show him what I got inside my heart and apply my skill set. We’re going to do it inside his back yard and its going to be a war. This is the toughest fight of my career besides fighting BJ Penn at his best because I think that BJ Penn is a better martial artist than Jake. When I fought BJ Penn he was at his best and he was driven. He knew if he came in not in shape I would get him in the later rounds. BJ Penn is a good friend of mine, he’s the only guy that put a beating on me, he earned it.
Do you think we’ll see BJ fight again?
I believe so…It was very sad for me to see him fight the way he did against Nick Diaz. Everyone knows that he gassed out after the first round. I hope he gets back in there; I think he’s better at 155.
When you see that Ellenberger’s 17 of his 26 wins have come either by TKO or KO and on the flip side of that 4 of his 5 losses have come by decision. Do you ever look at the history of a fighter’s statistical breakdown and factor it into the way you approach a fight camp?
I just know that I’m fighting a good fighter. I can’t really look at all that stuff. I used to think so much about all that stuff and I used to think so much, what I was going to say and all that mind games, all that stuff is crap. When you lock the door its two men in the cage and it’s what you do in training, and it’s the decisions that you make, like don’t have sex before the fight, don’t drink, being smart, what you eat… just everything. Those are the things that really matter. I like to watch the fights tapes and see what the guys going to do. I’m very blessed to have to Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn, those two guys together is unbeatable team. Trust me I’ve watched every move Jake Ellenberger does, I know how he’s going to fight. I also know the guy that I’m going to fight is even better than the guy I saw on tape.
You’ve been a guy that’s reinvented himself over the years and has added different elements into your fighting style and you’ve worked hard on your striking. What’s the next step for Diego Sanchez to get over that so-called “Hump” and finally get a title Shot in the welterweight division?
You know what it is, it’s just dedication. Getting strong, lifting weights and being a legit welterweight. Just continuing to get better and continuing to compete with my teammates which are very high level. Let me tell you, most of the guys I fight with are 205’ers and 185’ers. There’s Carlos Condit who’s 170 but most everyone is 185.
Your teammate Carlos Condit is fighting for the interim title on the February 4th, it’s not too farfetched for people to possibly be talking about Condit vs. Sanchez. That would be a fantastic fight for the fan, two aggressive guys who bring it every single time. Let’s imagine a world where that happens, how would you see that fight going down? Where do you give yourself the advantage versus a Carlos Condit?
Me and Condit both know that. I’m not even going to say, we’re teammates and I’m just going to keep it humble and not talk about my teammate in any way and if we have to cross that bridge we’ll cross that bridge and the fans will get to see when we get in the cage. We’re both warriors, we both fight hard, we both have heart, we get in there and you guys are going to see an awesome war. Stand up, ground fighting, everything. We’re friends and we have a lot of respect for each other but we want the same dream. We want to be world champ. We’re not at all sensitive; we’re not like Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch saying they’re going to retire before they fight each other. This is what we do for a living.
Let’s talk about the guy he’s facing, Nick Diaz. I think it was in late 2005 that the two of you put on one of the best fights of that year and personally one of my favorite of all time. When you look back at Nick Diaz as a fighter then, and compare him to the guy that pummeled BJ Penn in October, how would you describe his progression and evolution as fighter over the last 6 and a half years.
Man, everybody out there, straight up, I don’t like to hear this crap about Nick Diaz. I’m hearing this stuff on Sherdog, “Oh Diego Sanchez and Nick Diaz…gotta pick Nick Diaz, that was a long time ago and he’s gotten so much better”. You know what man, we’ve all gotten better. Styles make fights! I’m still a guy that’s gonna take down Nick Diaz, I’m still a guy that’s gonna push the pace on Nick Diaz, I’m still the guy that’s tough enough to take Nick Diaz’s little pitter-patter punches. Styles make fights. Nick Diaz has this grappling that’s on point and so do I. We get back in there again, I’m going to kick his ass again.
I want to bring up Matt Hughes, that’s a fight you’ve wanted for a long time and he seems to be on his way out. Do you think that both your paths will ever cross inside the octagon?
Not anymore. The fight with me and Matt would have been really good before he got knocked out by Koscheck. Right now, not taking anything away from the legend, it’s not going to happen. It’s not a fight I want anymore.
Last question, when you look across the entire ZUFFA roster, including Strikeforce, what’s the one name that you see that makes your say…I want to fight that guy.
BJ Penn at 170. He’s the only one that’s ever kicked my butt. Nick Diaz, my training partner Carlos Condit a great fight too, and Jake Ellenberger, he’s the guy that’s on a tear. And of course my number one, old Georgie. I know the fight with George the only way I have a shot is to match his athleticism and his strengths and that’s something that I’ve been working on, lifting weights. I know to be able to get in there and fight a guy like him you have to be able to match his strength because he’s a strong guy. I think there’s an area of the game where he doesn’t match my skill set. I don’t think he can take a punch like me, I don’t think he can take a hit, like that rawness like I hit and I hit you back, I don’t think he can take that. Just the heart, being in a war. The guy can wrestle and he’s fast and he’s strong and he’s very good at everything. I think it’d be a good fight.
Diego Would like to thank Silver Star, ADG, Authentic Brand, Luke and Charles, The Maloof Family, Jackson Camp and Mike Winklejohn.