By Robert Rousseau
Does Anyone Know Why There Seems to Be No Love for Diego Sanchez?
“He would’ve gotten creamed in TUF if he would have fought Nate Quarry.”
“He isn’t UFC caliber right now.”
“Makes me ashamed to be from Albuquerque.”
Those were a few internet comments on Diego Sanchez. Just punch the name into google and you’ll find a host of them. But isn’t Diego The Ultimate Fighter 1 (TUF 1) winner? The guy that most people thought would make the biggest splash of all the contestants when the first mixed martial arts reality television show ended? Yet, as Forest Griffin’s popularity continues to soar- the other TUF 1 winner- Diego continues to accumulate love like this.
“Trigg would eat him alive, not to mention Parisyan, Diaz, and even St. Pierre.” (a pre Diaz fight comment, obviously).
So, why? Why so little love for Diego Sanchez? There’s only one real way to go about trying to figure it all out. Systematically.
Maybe it’s his religious zeal- He leaves the dressing room for fights with his eyes closed and hands together like a monk on a pilgrimage. Further, as they announce his name in the ring he spreads his arm out like a deity and brings them together while the crowd cheers, seeming to draw strength from the people. Problem is, the cheering is being drowned out by the boos. All that’s nothing compared to the amount of times he thanks God in post fight interviews. Heck, on more than one occasion he’s even indicated that God is on his side. Put together, it’s the type of thing that might turn fight fans against him, right?
Well. . . Evander Holyfield used to actually enter the ring singing religious songs. Ever count the amount of times he thanked his maker after victories? Kimo and a partner of his once brought an actual cross into the ring with them. In fact, didn’t Kimo adorn a huge cross tattoo? Both of these fighters were quite popular in their prime. So, based on past fan practice, we can safely eliminate religious zeal as the sole contributor to his seeming lack of popularity.
Maybe it’s his confidence- Remember, this is a man that appears to believe God has ordained him as champion already. He is supremely confident that he can beat anybody; this much is clear. In fact, that seems to be the biggest difference between him and Forrest Griffin. The other TUF 1 winner seems almost neutral about his own skills. When he talks one feels as if he’s saying- yeah, I’m all right- even if his fighting conveys so much more. So, it must be the cockiness, right?
Well. . . sports fans tend to like confident people. Muhammad Ali, the most beloved fighter in American history certainly wasn’t lacking any when he used to say, I must be the greatest. Remember when Larry Bird walked into the dressing room before the first NBA three point shooting contest and looking out over the other contestants asked who was going to come in second? Is anyone more loved in their chosen sports than these two? So, based on past fan practice, we can safely eliminate confidence as the sole contributor to the problem.
Maybe it’s the competition he’s faced- Before TUF 1 Diego was an undefeated fighter, though the competition he’d faced wasn’t exactly stellar. In light of this, perhaps fans were down on him in response to the six figure contract and quick UFC upbringing. But then he took on Nick Diaz, a well respected UFC fighter. A win against Diaz, a man who had beaten the likes of Chris Lytle, Jeremy Jackson, and Robbie Lawler would certainly prove Sanchez’s mettle. And he did win. Despite Diaz’s ability to deal with Diego’s ground and pound and effectively steer clear of submissions, it was by no means a close fight. Sanchez was dominant, taking down Diaz at will and pounding on him like pizza dough. Though Diaz deserves respect for the impressive jiu- jitsu demonstration he put on, the truth was he never really had a chance to win.
So, finally Diego Sanchez had proven his mettle. All those that had said he was a lucky TUF fighter would rethink their statements, right? Then the moment of triumph was upon him. His face got planted on the video monitor at UFC 56- Full Force. But, instead of cheers, there was the same mixture of hecklers, to the point that Joe Rogan said, “a mixed reaction from the crowd.”
So, it’s not solely the competition he’s faced either. If it was, then things might’ve changed after the Diaz fight.
What is it then? Why haven’t fans warmed to this guy?
When something goes wrong, it’s rarely for one reason.
And in that statement lies the reality.
Think Cassius Clay (though in no way does Diego deserve to be compared to him beyond the points that will be noted here). He’d beaten some good fighters before Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, and Floyd Patterson, but until those wins he wasn’t on many Christmas card lists. In fact, he was despised by the public majority.
What drove them away? A combination of three things; two of which we’ve already identified as unable to cause Diego’s plight by themselves. But, when put together. . .
Like Cassius Clay- and to an extent like MMA’s own Tito Ortiz- Diego Sanchez talks like he’s a great fighter. He’s extremely confident, and that came through on TUF 1. Clay and Ortiz were disliked early in their careers because their sheer brashness wasn’t backed up by their wins. They hadn’t beaten anybody yet, so people were put off by their attitudes. A combination of confidence and their lack of worthy wins was the issue, and the same can be said for Diego Sanchez. There was more, though. Even early on, those that disliked Clay and Ortiz’s yapping saw something that made them bristle.
They were dripping with it. After all, there are plenty of brash people in the fight game. You rarely hear about the ones that don’t have anything going for them, though, because they don’t conjure up any emotions. All bark and no bite. But those that dislike the barking will notice when someone starts yapping who just might be able to back it up.
In the end, Cassius Clay became a beloved figure because his wins eventually matched his confidence. He was the greatest, and once he proved it people accepted him. Though he did lose public appeal after switching his name, religion, and skipping the draft- strong convictions, remind you of anybody?- he again regained popularity once the public realized that his beliefs were real. They stood the test of time. Along this line of thinking, Tito Ortiz eventually became the most popular fighter in the UFC because his wins did finally catch up to his talking. Interesting that now, having come out on the wrong side of fights against Couture and Liddell, Ortiz is beginning to feel the ill effects from fans. Perhaps his wins no longer match his confidence. The barometer in the end is the fans; as it always will and should be.
So the question of the day- Will Diego ever be embraced by the MMA majority? That may be the same as asking, will he become champion? Usually there is no middle ground for fighters like Diego. He’ll either amass some great wins and become beloved, or his popularity will drop even more. But, Diego is not all bark. His wrestling skills are excellent and ever- improving (perhaps just a step below guys like Hughes and Koschek). His jiu- jitsu skills are really outstanding and wholly underrated; in fact, he’s up there with the best of the welterweight division in that regard. Further, his cardio may be his greatest ally (did you see the pace he set against Diaz?), not to mention his strength. Though his stand up is largely untested, he sure did look good using it to set up takedowns against Nick Diaz, didn’t he?
In an organization with a welterweight division filled with talent, Diego Sanchez has a hard road ahead of him. But the fans, some of whom heckle him every chance they get, see the talent. At times he looks scary good. Will Diego ever be beloved and rise to the top of the UFC welterweight division?
It sure is a tough division.
But, don’t bet against him.