ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Even though Diego Sanchez admits he could encounter the same type of fight that led to a recent loss, he calls Ross Pearson “the perfect opponent.”
“[Pearson] comes from the same team as Myles Jury, so there’s a chance that they might try to play the same game plan,” Sanchez told MMAjunkie. “But he’s an incredibly different fighter than Myles. He’s a stocky, short build, and he can’t play that game plan on me because he has a different body type.”
Jury used his lanky frame to outpoint Sanchez at this past month’s UFC 171, delaying the original “The Ultimate Fighter” winner’s second push toward a lightweight title in nine years with the UFC. Sanchez also blamed his setback on the bad luck of getting food poisoning. While he gave the up-and-comer credit, he said he wasn’t able to display his skills.
“Any muscle energy I had, I used in the warmup,” said Sanchez, who said an order of beef tartare was the culprit behind his illness. “I remember being in the fight and my mind was there and I remember tying up with him and going for the takedown and the energy just wasn’t there. I had no pep in my step.
“I remember catching eyes with (UFC executive) Lorenzo Fertitta during the fight, just looking down at him like, ‘Ugh, man, what’s going on?’ I talked to (UFC President) Dana (White) and Lorenzo, and they said, ‘We knew something wasn’t right with you in there. Aside from when you fought Josh Koscheck with staph infection, we haven’t seen you fight like that.’”
Sanchez could be in for a similar night against Pearson, but he’s betting the British fighter won’t follow in Jury’s footsteps.
“He’s an aggressor,” Sanchez said. “He comes forward, he fights. I’m an aggressor, and it’s going to be a night for history.”
Indeed, the bout holds special significance for “The Dream,” who for the first time in his career fights in a UFC event held in his hometown. Sanchez (24-7 MMA, 13-7 UFC) and Pearson (15-6 MMA, 7-3 UFC) co-headline UFC Fight Night 43, which takes place June 7 at Albuquerque’s Tingley Coliseum and airs live on FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass.
“It’s my homecoming,” said Sanchez. “It’s been 10 years, and it was getting to the point where I was like, eh, it just never going to happen.”
When alerted to the promotion’s plans to hold a show in Albuquerque, Sanchez immediately called UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to volunteer his services despite still healing from cuts he suffered in the fight with Jury.
“I told him, ‘Hey bro. Get me on the UFC Albuquerque card. I already got my cuts cleared by the doctor. I will fight [lightweights], I will fight [welterweights], throw me in there at 185,’” he said. “I’ll fight any guy on the roster.”
Sanchez said Silva initially told him that several potential opponents turned down the fight, but Pearson stepped into the spot.
“He’s a warrior also, and he’s not afraid,” Sanchez said. “He’s one of those guys that’s not afraid to hit and get hit. He’ll scrap with anybody, and so he’s coming to my hometown, and he’s going to feel the heat.”
Despite being known for participating in all-out slugfests, Sanchez said he’s not interested in another fight that leaves him a bloody mess. Although that’s probably the strongest part of his appeal to fans, he might be a little tired of having to work so hard for his pay.
“I’m looking to go out and finish [Pearson],” he said. “I’m looking to dominate and take the guy wherever I can take him. I want to finish this fight. I don’t want ‘Fight of the Year,’ I want ‘Finish of the Year.’”
Although most fans would say Sanchez is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the 32-year-old fighter is still driven to earn a title shot. And with his popularity, he might be within reach of one if he’s able to string together several wins. However much of an underdog he’d be against lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, Sanchez is convinced he is a threat.
“I feel I have everything to offer [Pettis], I just haven’t got to show it yet,” he said. “I’ve shown moments of my greatness, moments in my Paulo Thiago fight, in the Gilbert Melendez fight, in the third round of the Jake Ellenberger (fight), (and) with Martin Kampmann. There’s been a lot of moments, but have I yet to put it together? No. After the Melendez fight, I was able to realize I need to be a high-level kickboxer and a high-level striker before anything, because the fight starts on the feet.
“Yeah, I have a great chin and great conditioning, but I need to be able to strike and be efficient and accurate. So that’s something I’ve finally realized, and I really went to work with my team. But I haven’t been able to show it yet. As far as wrestling and ground skills with Pettis, I think I’m on another level. He has some nice ground skills, too, but I feel like I’m on another level, and (with) size and strength, I feel that’s a fight I win nine out of 10 times.”