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From Nightmare to Dream - The Quotable Diego Sanchez

"You never know when it’s gonna be your last fight, and I fight every fight like that.  When I’m in there, I will fight with every ounce of blood I have in me, with all my spirit, heart, and mind." - Diego Sanchez

UFC welterweight Diego SanchezIf there’s one thing practically every mixed martial arts writer can say, it’s that there’s no such thing as a bad Diego Sanchez interview. When The Ultimate Fighter season one winner and former world title challenger gets rolling (and it usually doesn’t take much), it’s best to just set up your recorder and let him roll, because you’re about to get enough quotes to last you for a week’s full of stories. With his UFC on FUEL main event against Jake Ellenberger approaching a week from today, here’s a sampling of memorable musings from “The Dream.”


“I’m not here to be the fifth best or the second best in the world.  I’m here to be the best in the world, hands down.  If I set my expectations lower than that, I wouldn’t be a champion.

“It’s business when I go in there.  I look at this as my career, as my life.  I’ve got my mom and my dad – my dad who works construction – and I want to have money for them to retire.  I want to end all the hard work and I want to be there for stuff like that.  I think about the reasons why I’m fighting and stuff like that.  So a little thing like that - trying to distract me by getting me mad – that’s not gonna throw me off my goal.”

 “This is my art.  It’s my body, my mind, and my spirit, and when I go into the ring I look at it as war. I look at it like he’s trying to take my job from me, trying to take the money I’ve put on the table for food, and basically trying to take my life away.  So when I go in there, I go in there with the mentality that once they lock that door, I’m going in there and fighting for my life.  And when you’re fighting for your life, what else do you got?” 
ORIGINS (2005)
“I wasn’t looking for the fight, it found me, and that’s basically the way fighting found me. I hadn’t been in a lot of fights in my life and I got tested in the street fight one time, fighting a big, strong, tough athlete who had strong endurance – he was a football player and he outweighed me by like 70 pounds, and I was able to overcome those odds. And I had wrestled, but I didn’t know jiu-jitsu – it was all heart. And when I overcame that guy, I started to think that maybe I am meant for this.”
DESTINY (2005)
“I always loved the UFC, I always wanted to be a UFC fighter, but did I think it was gonna happen? I didn’t know. But after that happened, I started to realize. Then it was just one fight after another, building momentum, my confidence grew and I continued to trust in God and believe that maybe this was why I was put on the TV show and why everything is just the way it is. I believe its destiny.”
ABU DHABI (2005)

“I took that tournament on two weeks notice, I wasn’t training, and I cut 23 pounds in a week. I was so weak from my match with Jake Shields, a match that I lost, and then I was able to stick with Marcelo (Garcia) a day later in the absolute division and I was stronger because I had a day to recover. We were 0-0 with 30 seconds left and I was getting desperate and I went for a sloppy move with the best grappler in the world and he caught me with the counter move and I was submitted for the first time in competition. But what I had done to my body, I killed myself. I never wanted to quit so bad in my life. I was mentally weak in that sauna, and I felt myself wanting to quit. It taught me a big lesson. After that happened, you will never see Diego Sanchez cutting weight like that again for a mixed martial arts fight. Because if I had been in a mixed martial arts fight, I probably would have been beaten, because my insides were gone. I felt my organs hurting and I never want to feel that in a fight. I did a lot of things wrong to get things right.”

“If I’m not confident, then I’m gonna start to have doubts and start to think about the bad things that can happen to me in the cage – like getting knocked out or submitted or cut. If I think about those things, it’s gonna be on my mind and it’s gonna bring me down. I stay positive, I stay focused, and I think about what I have to do to beat my opponent.”

 “You never know when it’s gonna be your last fight, and I fight every fight like that.  When I’m in there, I will fight with every ounce of blood I have in me, with all my spirit, heart, and mind. And I’ve heard fighters say this, but truly, he’s gonna have to kill me to beat me because I’m not gonna quit, I’m not gonna break.”

THE “0” (2006)

“In my mind all the TUF guys are gonna lose and I’m gonna be the only undefeated fighter and I’m still gonna be the only guy that went through the show, finished everybody, and I’m gonna be ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ They’re gonna say, ‘that guy Diego Sanchez, he was ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ through all the seasons.’ They’re gonna say that he was the only guy that dominated it, came out after it, stayed undefeated, won the belt, and got out of his contract undefeated.”


“Really all it is is a mental state, a way of thinking, and it’s a way of believing in yourself. I believe in myself, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this. Anyone can do anything if they believe and I’m trying to get that message across. Everybody wants to hate and everybody wants to doubt, and there are people out there who want to see me lose just to see me lose, and they think I’m cocky, but I believe in myself. If you want to hate me because of that, go ahead. If I didn’t believe, there would be times in fights where I’d be like, ‘okay, I can quit, I’m tired,’ but I feel I’ve got a lot a heart, and though people say every dog has its day and everybody has his time to lose, maybe that’s true but I’m trying my best to take fights smart and fight smart and do my best to keep my record undefeated. When I started this game a long time ago, I told myself I’m gonna be smart about it. I’m not just gonna go in there and be (former UFC contender) Robbie Lawler and say “ARRRGGGGGH, I’m gonna brawl and try to knock your head off and try to be the most exciting fighter in MMA history.” That’s not my gameplan. My gameplan is to be smart, and that means there may be some boring fights, but other fights are gonna be damn exciting, and I’m always gonna push the pace and do what I can to win.”


“It was a slow process, but ever since I won the Ultimate Fighter TV show in 2005, even though I had good fights and great wins, slowly, the fame was changing me. And I had to look back, analyze everything and ask myself who I was. I wasn’t that same tiger when I went into the ring with Josh Koscheck that I was whenever I started getting into this game. I was going through the motions and I wasn’t focused. I wasn’t being myself. I just need to be me and not think about anything else. I have to be that same hungry, King of The Cage fighter that was at the bottom of the barrel, that comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico, raised in poverty. That’s the Diego Sanchez that I need to be.”


“I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. I’ve been raised in Albuquerque my whole life and I was ready for a change. I had been wanting to go out to California. Every time I’d come out to San Diego, for a month or two months to do conditioning camps with Rob Garcia, I’d always be like ‘man, it’s so nice out here. I wish I could run the beach everyday or work on my boxing more.’ But there wasn’t a ground guy out there for me, and of course there was my loyalty to Greg Jackson. I had the Jackson Gaidojutsu team, New Mexico was my home state, and I knew everybody over there, but things happen and it was the right time. Saulo Ribeiro and Xande Ribeiro moved to San Diego and opened up a school, and those guys are, in my opinion, the two best ground guys in the world. I’ve rolled with Marcelo Garcia and some of the best guys, and there ain’t nothing like a Saulo Ribeiro or an Alexander Ribeiro.”


“Fighting at 170 has always been good for me, but I walk around at a little chubby 180, and by the time I’m in great shape and ripped, I’m 172, 173, and not really cutting weight. So where this sport is going, everybody’s cutting weight. When I fought Jon Fitch, he had at least 20 pounds on me, and there was a very big size advantage. So after getting injured before the Thiago Alves fight, I just had to make a decision. I thought about all the options at 170, and what would be the best choice for me, and then I thought that if I dropped to ’55, I’m going to be bigger, stronger, able to focus more on technique and not on how to get bigger. Strength training was a big part of my training at 170, trying to get bigger. Now at 155, I get to work more on maintaining strength, which is a totally different task. I made the decision, and if there’s ever a time for me to do it, it’s gonna be now, while I’m still in my 20’s. When I get into my 30’s it’s gonna be a lot harder.”


“I’m one to always put high expectations on every fight, so there’s no added pressure on me. For me, I feel like there’s always the same amount of pressure on every fight because every fight’s just as important. But this fight is something special to me. For the first time in my career, I’m fighting for a world title, and more important, against my opponent, BJ Penn. The guy’s probably been the most dominant lightweight in UFC history and I’ve been waiting for this fight with BJ Penn for a long time because all along I knew that fighting BJ Penn was going to bring out the best Diego Sanchez, and Diego Sanchez fighting BJ Penn is going to bring out the best in him. So that night we’re both gonna be pushed to see who has more heart and who is the better fighter – and that’s what it’s gonna come down to because I feel we match up well in all areas of the game.”


“I loved San Diego and I still do. I was living really nice out there, real comfortable, but I just felt in my heart that I had to get back to my roots. I asked myself, ‘what got me there, what got me in the UFC, what got me to The Ultimate Fighter, what got me through The Ultimate Fighter, and what got me to the top of the UFC 170-pound division?’ It was just that hard working energy of Albuquerque and having my mom and my dad, and having that love around me all the time.”


“I felt very humbled in the BJ Penn fight and in the two months after the fight when I couldn’t train and I was just out and about and doing my thing because I had this big cut on my head, that’s when I felt very humbled. It’s not about the Hollywood lifestyle. It’s really nice to get all these fans and all these people who love you because of what you do in the Octagon, but I had to look back to before all of that when I was just another kid wanting to climb to the top. I don’t need to have the most expensive this or the nicest that. I don’t have to drink bottled water; I can drink some of this Albuquerque tap water and get just as rough and rugged and mean. And I honestly feel like my skills have improved.”


“Before Albuquerque was known to the world, I grew up watching Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero boxing and I was a little fighter. I got into street fights, and it’s just a mentality. I call it the ‘Burque. It’s short for Albuquerque but it’s just a mentality, that ‘let’s get it’ mentality, and that separates me from a lot of the other fighters. I could never go into a fight and be thinking ‘okay, I’m gonna circle right, circle left, throw three leg kicks, see how he counters, and then I’m gonna set my takedown up.’ The mentality that I fight with is that I look at two pitbulls and before the fight, those two dogs are just going for the kill and they’re instinctively countering each other and moving synergistically and looking for the opportunity to strike and take their opponent out. And that’s the way I go into a fight. I think that’s probably the reason why I have such a big fanbase. They love that I go in there and put my heart on the line and I risk it. I’m gonna always risk it.”


“Greg (Jackson) had told me that the door was always open and they always treated me like a family member, with open arms. And I was just being stubborn. I wanted to try to do a camp myself, but I was still in the process of moving. I went to do my camp in New Mexico (for the John Hathaway fight) because I felt I needed to do that, but I still had my place in San Diego, still had ties to my previous team, and I wanted to do it right when I made my return to Jackson’s. Right now, everything’s perfect.”


“I want to be the best and I want to continue to get better. I’ve made some mistakes in my career, I’ve made some bad decisions, and there’s been multiple times where I was growing up and I got sucked into the limelight. But right now, I realized in my last fight that when it’s all said and done, it just comes down to earning the W. So my mentality now is, I’m just gonna earn it. I’m gonna earn the victory, work hard, and when I go in that gym, I want to be the hardest worker in there. That’s my whole new mindset on mixed martial arts and my career – be the hardest worker and earn the victory.”


“It’s my blessing. I feel like I was blessed with the fighting ability and that’s my calling. It’s what I love to do and it’s my passion. You’ve heard me say this way back in the beginning of my career that I feel it’s my destiny to fight and to be champion, so I’m not letting go of that. I’m gonna continue to work hard, and I really feel like I’ve got my head on my shoulders finally after so many trials and tribulations. I’ve got my feet digging down in the ground, I’m standing firm, I’m working hard, and I’m gonna show everybody how hard work can pay off, because talent can only take you so far.”


“I’m climbing up the ladder and there’s only one way to do it and that’s to earn it. That’s what I realized after my losses to BJ (Penn) and John (Hathaway). I was going through the motions. I always trained hard and I’m not making excuses, but there’s no comparison between my training in San Diego and what it is here. I was in San Diego basically doing jiu-jitsu in the gi and then going to striking. I was putting MMA together and trying to create this style that wasn’t my own style. And when I came back to New Mexico, Greg said, ‘that’s not you. We gotta change a lot of things.’ He analyzed my fights when I wasn’t with him and he broke me down, and we reinvented me to what my style should be, and I came full circle as a martial artist and found my style. It took some time, but we worked on it.”

EGO (2011)

“I’ve always been able to look at myself and say ‘remember where you came from.’ It’s not hard for me to put my ego aside because that’s the way you get better. You can’t care what other people think because some days you’re gonna go into the gym and have hard days.”


“I look back now and it was a great experience being away, but I never would have appreciated what I have if I didn’t leave it. Me and Greg (Jackson) started out together. I was one of his first fighters, and we were on the grappling circuit and had barely started doing MMA fights. I didn’t know what I had. I didn’t even know what I had in my hometown of Albuquerque. Now there’s such a deep appreciation each and every day that I walk into that gym just knowing that I really have something special here.”


“I like getting bonuses and going out in the streets and having people just shining at me like bright lights, saying ‘oh, I can’t believe your last performance, it was so amazing, and the fight was so good.’ I want that kind of reaction.”