Throughout his UFC career, Diego Sanchez has faced more peaks than valleys, but that doesn’t mean the original winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” didn’t face some terrible lows on his way to experiencing some incredible highs.
Winning the reality show was the beginning of a very successful UFC career where Sanchez won his first five fights in a row before falling victim to back-to-back losses. Sanchez also split with his trainer Greg Jackson, a person he had been with since high school, and opted to move to California to get ready for fights.
Sanchez then dropped to lightweight, where he felt great success until it once again came crashing to a halt when he was stopped by then champion B.J. Penn. The result of that fight sent Sanchez spiraling downward, and he fell into a dark and dangerous place.
“I hit rock bottom after the B.J. Penn fight, I really did. I blew through all my money, I made some very bad decisions,” Sanchez admitted recently.
“I had this scam artist scam me real bad. I was embezzled over $175,000. I really got hit rock bottom and I had to come back home. I needed my family love and I just was humbled, 100 percent. I was humbled back down to zero. I had no ego, no nothing, just humble, and that’s what, after the John Hathaway loss, I was still in the funk. I was still in the funk for John Hathaway.”
In the Hathaway fight, Sanchez was rocked and simply outmatched for 15 minutes, which made many people question if he had made the right choice, going back up to welterweight after losing the lightweight title match to Penn.
In reality, Sanchez says it was things going on in his personal life that led to his focus going astray. To get back to the place where he needed to be so he could be great again, Sanchez had to reach out to those he had left behind just a few years before.
Like a great band that made a list of No. 1 hits, only to break up over personal differences, Sanchez walked back into the training room at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico and it was like he had never even left.
Jackson, who had always maintained that the split with Sanchez was never personal, welcomed his old student back with open arms.
“I came back home and I want to be home now. I really am where I belong here in New Mexico. I was born and raised here, my family is here, and me and Greg go back so far. He’s gotten so much better as a coach. And for me, I came full circle there as a fighter,” Sanchez said.
Going back to work at Jackson’s, Sanchez found the fundamental base that he worked on for so many years. He saw familiar faces like Keith Jardine and Joey Villasenor, who had worked with him since his earliest days in the sport.
He didn’t just go back to an old training camp. Diego Sanchez went back to family.
“When I walked in, it was the most amazing feeling because I felt like I was home again, because we’re talking about a gym that kept me out of the streets as a young child. This is somewhere that I went twice a day, and I was 19 years old. I was in Jackson’s twice a day or do the morning classes, or do the night classes. This is something that was just, it was my life. And to go back to, back home, and Greg Jackson that guy has got so much love for me. He just had his arms open, all the doors open, and said this is your home Diego. So, it was a great feeling,” Sanchez said.
“And every day that I walk in there, I get that same feeling. I just thank the Lord that he’s brought me back home and that I finally let my stubbornness go and said, you know what, this is where I need to be, 100 percent.”
Putting all of that together, Sanchez believes he’s got the tools necessary to beat Martin Kampmann at UFC on Versus 3 and build on his last victory over Paulo Thiago. No matter what happens in Sanchez’z next fight, he’s still got a family to go home to now, and that may be the best motivation in the world for him to go fight his fight and leave it all in the Octagon.