Diego Sanchez has been on the back end of some absolute wars but after his recent stoppage loss to Al Iaquinta, I delve into the man dubbed "The Nightmare" and try to find out if it's time to call it quits before it's too late.
Royce Gracie, Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman are all legends of the sport we call MMA. They all brought excitement to the fans, fought with heart and gave it their all every fight. Royce Gracie educated us all to the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the first ever UFC; Chuck Liddell brought us to the edge of our seats with his exhilarating knockouts.
Eventually, father time catches up on the athlete and sadly you can either cooperate or you can struggle. In the case of UFC lightweight Diego Sanchez, it’s turning out to be an almighty struggle. At 35 years of age with a professional career spanning 15 years, it is fair to say that Diego Sanchez has been around a long time and seen it all with varying degrees of success. The Albuquerque product who had been a prolific wrestler as a child truly made his first splash on the MMA scene with his performances on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. Known for his slick grappling and his aggressive striking he soon became a fan favorite with a thirst to entertain.
His early career was extremely impressive going 17-0, including some impressive wins over notable fighters such as Kenny Florian and Nick Diaz. However, it was when he met BJ Penn in his prime that soon things began to change. Sanchez took a lot of damage throughout that fight, losing by TKO in a five-round battle for the lightweight championship in which was arguably the height of his career.
The problem for Diego has sadly been his inability to either strengthen his weakness (his wild inaccurate boxing), or focus on getting to positions where he usually has the advantage (his highly impressive submission grappling). In his first eight bouts, six of those wins came by submission. As his career advanced, he became one of the many fighters who became in love with their hands.
To his credit Diego Sanchez is blessed with a strong mental fortitude that gives him the power to keep coming back to compete at the highest level; but, when is it enough? He’s been involved in some gruelling wars and even in his recent wins such as the Marcin Held bout he wasn’t always the most convincing.
Against Al Iaquinta we didn’t see anything new. No new developments, no slight changes in stance, intensity or range control. All of this led to a stunning knockout for the returning New Yorker Iaquinta after his own two-year layoff.
Diego is certainly an extremely talented fighter, but he never truly developed his game the same way MMA in itself has developed since 2002. It is indeed hard for the top-level athlete to move on regardless of the sport and competing at the highest levels of MMA is a lifestyle that you can't just turn off like a switch. You give up many other aspects of life, all to achieve the goal of being the best and eventually it is all you know as a fighter.
Turning your back for some can be easy but for many at the top, it can be very hard. Some will say that Sanchez still has fight in him and I won’t doubt that. However, I do not believe he has the skills to keep up with today’s top lightweights.