Sanchez Strikes His Way to Victory over Stevenson in Lightweight Debut
LONDON, February 21 –Former welterweight contender Diego Sanchez made an immediate statement in his debut at 155 pounds, scoring a hard-fought three round unanimous decision victory over Joe Stevenson in the main event of UFC 95 at the O2 Arena.
And he plans on staying at lightweight for a while.
“It’s definitely permanent for now,” said the 27-year old Sanchez, who mentioned lightweight champion BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, and Sean Sherk as prospective 155-pound opponents. “When I’m in my 30’s maybe I’ll go up.”
Scores were 29-28, and 30-27 twice for Sanchez.
Entering the Octagon to the strains of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, Sanchez’ intensity was evident on his face. Stevenson was less demonstrative, but his focus was clear once the bell rang as he pursued Sanchez and worked in straight counters as Sanchez flurried in spurts. As the midway point of the round approached, Sanchez picked up the pace and began to land with more frequency and power even rocking his foe with an uppercut. Stevenson responded with a takedown attempt, but was rebuffed, and he went back to his standup game in an effort to break his opponent. Sanchez continued to mix his strikes up well on Stevenson though, with his defense even showing signs of improvement as the round finished.
Sanchez opened the second with a hard right hand to the head, followed by a knee and a takedown that immediately put Stevenson on the defensive. The two got right back up to their feet and resumed the battle, locking up against the fence, and as Stevenson locked in a guillotine choke, Sanchez slammed his foe and broke loose. A frantic ground scramble ensued, and when the two rose, the crowd cheered appreciatively. As the round progressed, Stevenson began to close the striking gap a bit due to his aggression, but by the end of the frame Sanchez was back in control.
Both fighters met in the center of the Octagon at the start of the third and exchanged punches, with Sanchez perhaps getting the worst of it as he shook his hand after landing a right to the head, possibly injuring it. In ensuing exchanges, Stevenson seemed to be enjoying the action, as he took after Sanchez with a blood stained grin and exhorted the crowd to keep cheering after he stuffed a Sanchez takedown attempt. Sanchez finally started to show signs of wearying as the bout entered it’s final two minutes, but as Stevenson began to land, Sanchez found a second wind and scored well with some punches and a kick to the head which bloodied Stevenson’s left eye just before a frenetic final flurry by both men got the O2 roaring.
With the win, Sanchez improves to 22-2; Stevenson falls to 34-10.