June 16, 2008

Diego Sanchez came out on the winning end of 17 professional bouts before losing a mixed martial arts fight. Then, out of nowhere, the 26-year-old winner of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter inexplicably lost -- not only once, but two times back-to-back.

Of course, the losses were to current Top 5 welterweights and teammates Jon Fitch (No. 2) and Josh Koscheck (No. 4). Both losses were by decision and both are fights that Sanchez desperately wants back.

"Rematches with Koscheck and Fitch are definitely a part of my future. Those guys ain't going nowhere and I ain't going nowhere," he said in a recent interview with MMAWeekly.com.

Despite those losses, Sanchez has stayed the course in the Ultimate Fighting Championship's 170-pound division. He unloaded a flurry, punching David Bielkheden into submission at UFC 82 in March, and now prepares to step into the Octagon with American Top Team fighter Luigi Fioravanti at The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale on Saturday night.

According to him, he hasn't even considered dropping down a weight class like so many other fighters recently, and sees no reason to. "Until something happens, like say me getting beat up, then I'm not going to go down," explained Sanchez. "I know in my heart and in my mind that I have what it takes to beat (Georges) St. Pierre, (Matt) Hughes, B.J. (Penn); all those guys."

All three of those fighters are in his future plans. "The only thing I see in my future in this sport is to become the world champ. I want to fight with GSP. I want to fight B.J. Penn, and maybe Matt Hughes. They're the three top guys that I'd like to fight.

"If I could have it my way, a picture perfect story, I'd like to go in there and win the title from whoever it may be and get a rematch with Koscheck for the title. That'd be perfect."

But it's not a picture perfect world, far from it, and Sanchez has to continue on the path begun with Bielkheden and right his ship before he can legitimately claim a spot at the head of crowded line of UFC welterweight vying for a title shot.

With Thiago Alves' recent dismantling of the aforementioned Hughes; Koscheck's only recent misstep being to the current champion, St. Pierre, and being queued up to face Chris Lytle in July; and Hughes and Matt Serra's grudge match all having possible title implications; it is going to be difficult for Sanchez to elbow his way to the fore.

No matter his future aspirations, he can't afford to look past Fioravanti on Saturday night. A loss at this juncture would be catastrophic to Sanchez's to his quest for ultimate glory. It seems that he has been taking Fioravanti seriously, though, and has much respect for his opponent's pedigree.

"I've got a lot of respect for him. I think he's tough. He's more of a striker. It's a good fight for me. He's actually very well rounded," said Sanchez, who, knowing how strong ATT is in all departments, but especially in jiu-jitsu, has actually been working about 60 percent ground to 40 percent stand-up in preparations.

"I've always been a ground fighter and now I've just took it to the next level. I want to be known as the best on the ground," he stated.

Not only has he upped his ground game, but also his move last year from Albuquerque, N.M. to San Diego has unleashed an array of new, and impressive, training partners.

"It's a career move and it's a life move out here in S.D. I've put in some good time in New Mexico. The way I look at it, there ain't nothing wrong with some change. I think it's a good thing. I get to train with one of my jiu-jitsu heroes, Saulo Ribeiro," said Sanchez.

"My main training partners are Fabricio "Morango" (Camoes), and GilbertMelendez comes down and helps me out too whenever we can help each other out. Me and him definitely keep the intensity level on 200,000. We don't take no rounds off. We go full blast. Jake Shields has a hurt back, so he hasn't been down for this camp, but he also comes down sometimes."

He indicated that the transition to San Diego has taken some time, but that everything is starting to click for him in Southern California. And he plans on showing that at The Ultimate Fighter finale.

"All my best performances... have all been on Spike (TV) and I hope to add Luigi Fioravanti to the list," said Sanchez. "I'm looking to go in and dominate Luigi Fioravanti and see what they got next for me."

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