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05th Mar 2019

Diego Sanchez – The original savage with plenty left to give

A nightmare come true

Darragh Murphy

Guarantees are few and far between in the sport of mixed martial arts

Expected barn-burners can be let-downs, anonymous filler fights can become classics and oddsmakers have never been made to look as uninformed as they have in recent years.

But among the scant certainties in the Octagon lies a frenzied fighter by the name of Diego Sanchez who has given us more thrillers than we’re probably deserving of.

“This is my life,” were the first words uttered by a 22-year-old Sanchez on the inaugural season of the Ultimate Fighter.


“Fighting and becoming the Ultimate Fighter… Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream.”

And ‘The Nightmare’ realised that dream in April, 2005 when he stopped Kenny Florian in the first round and became the first middleweight (yes middleweight) winner of the Ultimate Fighter.

Sanchez immediately began an odyssey across three weight classes, claiming fight bonuses and Herculaen wins at a preposterous rate.

UFC 196: McGregor v Diaz

In UFC history, only Nate Diaz has earned more fight of the night honours than Sanchez, whose haul currently stands at 7.

War after war, Sanchez became a fan favourite, a cult icon and a guarantee of pandemonium.

And that streak continued on Saturday night in Las Vegas, when Sanchez turned back the clock to claim his first knockout victory in over a decade.

From the chunky, green prodigy fighting at 185lbs and unable to handle his alcohol, Sanchez has developed into a legend of the Octagon and here are the ten fights with which he’s done so.

vs. Karo Parisyan (UFC Fight Night 6)

Bursting out of the blocks doesn’t do justice to how Sanchez attacked Judo black belt Karo Parisyan in 2006 with a takedown right off the bat.

Having mocked Parisyan’s grappling techniques in the run-up, Sanchez was dropped on his head later in the first and lost the opening round.

The second round was essentially the rock ’em, sock ’em robots equivalent of the ground game as the pair of welterweights exchanged takedowns, dominant positions and unfathomable sweeps.

Sanchez’s famous gas tank came into play in the third as he proved too explosive for an exhausted Parisyan and landed his first fight of the night prize in the UFC.


vs. Joe Stevenson (UFC 95)

Sanchez’s lightweight debut coincided with a consummate classic against TUF 2 winner Joe Stevenson.

In London, Sanchez put his famous “Yes!” entrance on show and brought that intensity into the opening minutes when he utilised a ripping combination of a left straight to the body followed by a right uppercut that Stevenson had no answer for.

The second round brought forth a crazy grappling exchange that forced the crowd to its feet and another scramble had them roaring for more.

A squalling demonstration of a leaped improvement in stand-up quality came to a close with Sanchez’s trademark unloading of bombs from the pocket once he hears the ten-second clapper. The fight had already been won and it was time to entertain in a routine unanimous decision win.

vs. Clay Guida (TUF 9 finale)

A pair of more energetic opponents simply doesn’t exist.


“Let’s go to war,” exclaimed referee Josh Rosenthal when the fighters returned to their corners after one of the most passionate staredowns in MMA history.

And they certainly did that as the below gif shows the tornado with which Sanchez greeted the opening seconds. A monster headkick in the first almost stopped Guida but ‘The Carpenter’ rallied and started diving on some double-legs however Sanchez refused to fight passively off his back.


He sliced Guida up with elbows from bottom position and never allowed himself or his opponent a breather. A split decision was awarded to ‘The Nightmare.’

vs. Paolo Thiago (UFC 121)

After receiving a wake-up call by a far superior BJ Penn in Sanchez’s first and only UFC title fight, Sanchez returned to welterweight but was shocked by John Hathaway and, suddenly, he went from a long-time undefeated contender to a fighter who had gone 4-4 in his last eight bouts.

But, literally and figuratively, Sanchez is a dangerous human being when his back is against the wall.

He rebounded against vicious Brazilian Paolo Thiago at UFC 121 and in spite of some early trouble, Sanchez enveloped Thiago with a tenacity for which his opponent had no resistance.

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A second round screaming slam was the highlight of the fight and manifest evidence of his matchless passion for the sport.

vs. Martin Kampmann (UFC on Versus 3)

Bust Diego Sanchez up early at your peril!

After five minutes with Denmark’s Martin Kampmann, Sanchez was left with a smashed nose and blood streaming from his mouth.

But the second round was peak Diego Sanchez as he bit down on a blood-caked gumshield and plodded forward, landing square-footed bombs that buckled the knees of Kampmann and, once more, a refusal to quit got Sanchez right back in the fight.


In the third round, Diego refused to stop stalking Kampmann down. It was the final few seconds in a race between predator and prey, and Sanchez wasn’t about to go hungry. He won a unanimous decision.

vs. Jake Ellenberger (UFC on Fuel TV 1)

In the first of his FOTN awards that didn’t correspond with his hand being raised, Sanchez still put up a dogged performance against Jake Ellenberger in 2012.

This would be the third time in a row that ‘The Nightmare’ – who then preferred ‘The Dream’ – claimed the Fight of the Night and there wasn’t any doubt when it came to the final buzzer of this one.

Possibly the greatest third round fighter in MMA history, Sanchez left it just too late against Ellenberger who was too clinical on the feet and clever with level-changes.

That didn’t stop Sanchez from trying to steal the fight right at the very death when he transitioned from mount to frantic attempts at a rear naked choke but it wasn’t to be on that night.


vs. Gilbert Melendez (UFC 166)

The best of the bunch? More than likely.

Not just the best fight on Diego Sanchez’s record but quite possibly the greatest fight in UFC history.

In terms of entertainment value, I’m personally proud to call this one my favourite fight of all time.

It was thrill-a-minute, had a gradual build up to a crescendo and was almost film-like in the way that the technique of one fighter (Melendez) was dominating but he couldn’t get past the will to succeed of Sanchez.

Sanchez couldn’t change the judges’ minds but his granite chin and desire to stand in the centre of the Octagon, pointing to his jaw as if to say ‘nothing can put this away’, will live in highlight reels for years to come.

There are not many candidates for the greatest fight of all time but this one gets my vote every single time.

vs. Marcin Held (TUF Latin America 3 Finale)

This fight lacked the breathless swing-from-the-hip tendencies that are typical of Sanchez outings.

But, at the age of 34, Sanchez proved that he has developed fully into a cerebral fighter who is cognisant of the fact that putting on a show may not always be the smartest course of action in the pursuit of a victory.

Up against a leg lock specialist, who was heavily favoured by bookmakers, Sanchez poured the pressure on the debuting Marcin Held, compounding his Octagon jitters by forcing him to fight on the back foot at altitude.

Held gassed and the energy required to put Sanchez away was clearly absent.

vs. Craig White (UFC 228)

There is never any need to do anything that might pump Sanchez up even more.

Sanchez is arguably the most intense fighter in UFC history so Craig White might regret the decision to kiss him at the weigh-ins ahead of UFC 228 because Sanchez came in to the welterweight clash with an added incentive to punish the Englishman.

Sanchez was coming off of two consecutive knockout defeats for the first time in his career and dropping three in a row may well have signalled the end of a storied career but Sanchez was not prepared to bow out.

He dominated White from start to finish, stopped the rot and earned a unanimous decision just two months before his 37th birthday.

vs. Mickey Gall (UFC 235)

Most fighters who have engaged in the kinds of wars that Sanchez has struggle to compete into their mid-thirties because that sort of damage tends to take its toll.

But at the age of 37, Sanchez’s obsession with anti-aging looked to be serving him better than ever because he rolled back the years by knocking an opponent out for the first time in over 10 years.

Mickey Gall was the bookies’ favourite to come out on top against the veteran on the prelims of UFC 235 and he looked to have the crisper striking in the opening stages.

But nothing can prepare you for the kind of relentless pressure that Sanchez puts on the man with which he is sharing the Octagon and after tiring Gall out, Sanchez pummelled his opponent to a defeat in the second round, proving that he still has plenty left to give.

Some day, Sanchez will turn that corner and be known as an ex-fighter. And we shouldn’t take for granted what he’s given us through the years.

Because there will, quite simply, never be another one like him.