Diego Sanchez stands in his corner prior to facing Matt Brown in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Ted Constant Convention Center on November 11, 2017 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)" align="center" />
Diego Sanchez still believes – in himself, his talents, his preparation and his abilities inside the Octagon. He still believes that he is capable of making a run at the welterweight title and although he knows many people will scoff at such an assertion, the longest tenured fighter on the UFC roster is undeterred because as long as he believes, he’s going to keep fighting.
“I’m chasing after my destiny to become the UFC champion,” says Sanchez, who will step into the Octagon for the 28th time this weekend when he takes on Craig White at UFC 228 in Dallas. “I’m looking to do a Michael Bisping story, but it’s the Diego Sanchez story and it ends differently than the Michael Bisping story because it ends with that belt around my waist and it ends with me giving all the glory to God for all the trials and tribulations (I’ve been through).
“You’re going to see a story that ends triumphant. I don’t care if one person in the world believes – I believe.”
Just a few months away from turning 37, Sanchez is a long way from the top of the welterweight division.
The only remaining active fighter from the first four seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, the Albuquerque, New Mexico native has not only struggled in his last two fights, but had a difficult time cobbling together enough wins to make any real headway in the rankings of late, regardless of which division he’s been competing in.
He got close to fulfilling his destiny once before, rattling off four straight victories and consecutive Fight of the Night performances to land opposite BJ Penn in the main event of UFC 107 with the lightweight title hanging in the balance. Many wondered if he would be the one to dethrone “The Prodigy,” but Penn put that notion to rest 30 seconds into the bout when he dropped Sanchez with a clean right hand.
The challenger showed his trademark toughness and heart, surviving into the final round before Penn’s shin opened a massive cut on Sanchez’ forehead that brought the bout to a halt.
“I watched the fight the other day to go into the emotions of what it was like to fight for the UFC championship against one of the best of all-time,” he says of his clash with Penn. “I wanted to re-experience those feelings. I wanted to re-attach to those emotions, even if they were hard to deal with. I watched it and I saw what I did good, what I did bad and I realized what cutting down to 155 took away from me.”
Watching his appearance at UFC 107 back might have reminded him of what he lost by fighting at lightweight, but it wasn’t until his last bout that Sanchez made the decision to return to the welterweight ranks for good.
Since that bout with Penn, the long-time Jackson-Wink MMA representative has bounced between the two divisions, and even made an appearance at featherweight, where he lost to Ricardo Lamas. Mixed results followed when he moved back to the 155-pound weight class and his return to welterweight last November against Matt Brown ended in violent fashion, with Sanchez on the business end of a hellacious elbow strike than ended the fight in a hurry.
“I felt great going out for my last fight and I feel fantastic (now),” says Sanchez, who believes the telling blow in his bout with Brown landed to the back of the head and should have been deemed illegal. “I was still undersized and it has taken a little time to get to where I’m a little bit bigger.
“I’m still durable. I’m still energized and I am 100 times the fighter than I was at UFC 107 when I stepped into the cage with BJ Penn,” he adds. “It felt good to look back and see the 27-year-old Diego and now the 36-year-old Diego and think about how they would match up. This 36-year-old Diego would finish the 27-year-old Diego.
“I’m more confident than ever. My mind is right. I’ve had the time to assess my losses, all of my situations, where I’m at as a mixed martial artist at 36 and I feel like I’m in my prime. It’s 100 percent my time. I’m coming into this fight more confident than I have ever been.”
Feeling great during training camp and having an unwavering belief in yourself are great, but even Sanchez knows professing how great he feels in advance of this weekend will largely fall on deaf ears when you’ve been stopped in each of your last two appearances.
He knows that the only way to quiet his critics and give credence to his words is to step into the Octagon on Saturday evening and deliver a dominant performance and that is precisely what he is planning to do.
“I’m going in to fight this guy that is six-two and I’m coming in small like the honey badger and that honey badger is ferocious, baby,” he says, laughing. “He’s hungry and he’s vicious and he’s not playing Mr. Nice Guy. I’m done playing Mr. Nice Guy.
“This is the hurt business and I’ve been hurt, so I’m coming in to hurt. The real, true “Nightmare” is coming out on Saturday night. What I’m looking to do is going to be so vicious and so violent that it will be trending on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram. The whole world is going to see what I do to Craig White.
“I’m going to fight with everything that I have. You guys are going to be blown away.”