When Diego Sanchez moved back to New Mexico, he not only went back to his roots, he went back to the team and trainer that took him to the peak of his career.
Walking through the doors at Team Greg Jackson, Sanchez was truly home again and it showed when “The Ultimate Fighter Season 1″ winner put on a classic performance in defeating Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 in October.
The return to form was Sanchez’s statement that he was back. For trainer Greg Jackson, it was just the time he had been waiting for. Jackson brought Sanchez up from his earliest days in MMA, and after an absence from the camp in recent years, the return culminated in a great moment after the fight.
“I was walking with him after the fight, it was just me and him, and we were walking back to the dressing room from the ring. I just had flashbacks of when he was like 19 years old and winning everything and walking back. It was a real comfortable feeling, it was one of those heartwarming moments. It’s kind of cheesy, but it happens,” Jackson told MMAWeekly.com.
Before the fight at UFC 121, Sanchez had fallen on hard times. A loss to B.J. Penn in his first ever attempt to claim a UFC title was a setback. Then Sanchez decided to go back to his old weight class at 170 pounds, where he was soundly beaten by British prospect John Hathaway.
Following that fight, Sanchez returned to Team Greg Jackson and the training that gave him his start, igniting his fire in the sport. Jackson was happy to have Sanchez back and was glad to prove the naysayers wrong when the New Mexico native won in decisive fashion over Thiago.
“Especially after he was on a couple-fight losing streak and people were writing him off as done, to just come back like that and show what an exciting fighter he is. (To) get back to that push forward exciting style, and having that performance against such a tough opponent, a guy that knocked out (Josh) Koscheck, he’s got (Mike) Swick, and he’s just done very, very well, to have that kind of performance and to just show the world that Diego is still around and back part of the camp,” Jackson said.
“What a night. You wish they could all be like that.”
Sanchez has since returned to the New Mexico camp to help other teammates prepare for upcoming bouts. The question lingers whether he will stay at 170 pounds for the immediate future or go back down to lightweight.
UFC president Dana White has stated he believes Sanchez is better suited as a lightweight, but leaves it up to his fighter when it comes time to choose. Jackson believes Sanchez will take at least one more fight at 170 pounds after the successful showing he had in October.
“I’m leaving it to Diego, I really don’t manage people, I just train them to fight, so the UFC tells us who we fight and we say okay and we fight them. I do have some input, but I’m kind of waiting to see. He looked good at 70 there, flowing and fast, and so I’m still on the fence about it,” Jackson said about his opinion.
“I think we’ll probably do our next fight at 70. I think what him and his management have decided, and Joe and Dana of course they’re the bosses, so they’ve got to decide as well, but I think we’re doing our next one at 70, but I’m not 100-percent.”
The welterweight division has a number of challengers that could step up and face Sanchez. As the cards start to fill out for 2011, it probably won’t be long until the “Nightmare” has found his next challenge.