Diego Sanchez was up to his old tricks at UFC 171. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It is fairly common in sports to hear about the changing of the guard, and mixed martial arts is no different. With each passing week, it seems there is a new hyped prospect that represents the next big thing in MMA. On the flipside, any notion of a rising star must be counter balanced with other fighters moving down the rankings.
Recently, we saw Chris Leben retire. Another star from a different generation, Josh Barnett, was trying to get back in the title picture, but those plans were derailed by Travis Browne. Now we have Diego Sanchez trying to maintain his relevance in the world of mixed martial arts.
Before his fight with Myles Jury at UFC 171 on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Sanchez was talking up how his decision to embrace yoga again would help him return to being the fighter he was when he burst on the global scene on Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in April 2005.
“It’s positive energy, and that’s what I’m all about,” Sanchez said. “I’ll always be ‘The Nightmare’ in the cage -- that’s going to be a part of me forever -- but when I’m outside the cage, I’m about the positive and ‘The Dream.’”
While there may be two sides to Sanchez and his nicknames, there has traditionally only been a single incarnation of the New Mexico native when he occupies the Octagon, one of pure aggression and fury. UFC President Dana White believes it is part of what made Sanchez such a fan favorite.
However, that style can also break down fighters as they age, so it was not surprising to hear Sanchez talking about his desire to become more of a technical competitor.
“I’m not always going to be in these wars; it’s only when something special happens,” he said. “I have been incorporating an extensive hot yoga program six days a week, on top of all of my running, on top of all of my wrestling training, on top of my mixed martial arts training. I have found the counter balance to longevity and the health and healing of being a 32-year-old fighter. It’s completely taken me to another level grappling, striking, everywhere. I have the limberness. I’m able to move like I never have before.”
White did not completely buy into the pre-fight chatter.
“I’ve seen guys do it before. Manny Pacquiao turned into a technical fighter, but Diego Sanchez is a warhorse,” he said. “If they get into an exchange, that’s what he does.”
Sanchez tried to get under Jury’s skin.
“I have freight train behind this engine,” he said. “Myles Jury is a small little block on my tracks, and I’m going to explode through that little blockage and move on to the next thing.”
Reality told a different story, as Jury remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. Sanchez showed his true colors in the cage, as he tried and failed to drag Jury into a brawl.
“I was just thinking I should keep doing what I was doing,” Jury said. “I was bloodying him up and beating him up pretty good. Sometimes when you get out there, it is tempting to get into a little bit of a brawl, so I was just making sure I was sticking to the game plan and kept piecing him up.”
The 25-year-old Alliance MMA export sees the victory as a potential springboard.
“I did what I trained to do,” Jury said. “I feel like I crossed a little hump there. Diego is a household name. Anybody who [watches] MMA knows Diego.”
It had been assumed that the winner of the Carlos Condit -Tyron Woodley co-main event would automatically get the next title shot -- until White set everybody straight the day before.
“Pretty much anybody who is fighting on this card, if they come off looking great and exciting, anybody can get a title shot,” he said. “There are no guarantees anywhere, ever, in life. They’re going to have to come out and perform.”
If you ask Woodley, he thinks he did enough by improving his record to 13-2.
“I used some level changes to really attack him with some hard right hands,” Woodley said. “I hit him very hard, and he felt it. I knew he wasn’t going to go right away, so I was just being patient and looking for the perfect opportunity to try and take him out. I was ready to do that for three rounds straight and really test the chin of somebody who everybody thinks isn’t going to get knocked out. For me, it was a good performance, and I felt like it was enough to get a title shot.”
Woodley stopped Condit with a leg kick after the “Natural Born Killer” appeared to injure his knee on a previous takedown. He admitted he zeroed in on his wounded counterpart.
“I heard him say something when I took him down. He was complaining on about the knee,” Woodley said. “When he got back up, I targeted it. I didn’t know which knee, so I kicked at both and I hit the right spot eventually. It was time to get him out of there.”
Condit was taken to a hospital shortly after his loss to Woodley. He was diagnosed with a possible small meniscus tear, as well as a potential tear to his ACL. He will undergo an MRI in Albuquerque, N.M., once the swelling subsides.
“When he hit me with the kick, it didn’t hurt at first,” Condit said. “I went to check it and the knee just kind of stayed when I twisted around. That’s when I really felt it go.”
If Hector Lombard has anything to say about it, his name also deserves to be in the conversation of potential title contenders. He dominated Jake Shields in a one-sided three-round affair and was ready to throw his name into the hat.
“When they scheduled this fight, people said it was going to be an easy fight for Jake Shields,” Lombard said. “I feel that I dominated every single area, on the floor -- I took him down so many times -- [and in the] standup. I wanted to prove that I have all the skills because I’m known for just going and standing up with guys, but I proved that I was better at wrestling and I was not scared at all of his ground game.”
For his part, Shields conceded his opponent got the best of him.
“Frankly, I’m embarrassed by my performance tonight,” he said. “Hector was really strong out there and he caught me with some big shots early. He paced himself and fought smart.”
Even with Nevada recently banning therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy, it continues to be one of the most-talked-about subjects in the sport. White addressed the issue again during one of his media scrums: “I believe that it is a performance-enhancing drug. If it wasn’t a performance-enhancing drug, everybody wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep taking it. It just needs to go away. Keep it simple.”