by Damon Martin
Diego Sanchez vs. Brian Gassaway: UFC 54 Preview

By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly.com

The success of the “Ultimate Fighter” reality show has been proven both in television ratings and recently with the fighters from the show winning in pay per view appearances and on Spike TV’s “Ultimate Fight Night” a week ago. The last of the fighters to make his first official appearance will be middleweight winner, Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez when he takes on Brian Gassaway at UFC 54.

Sanchez was an instant favorite going into the “Ultimate Fighter” because of his previous experience in MMA, holding an undefeated record going into the show. Diego is a native of New Mexico and has trained for his entire career under fighting guru, Greg Jackson.

Diego Sanchez was a fighter that fought more than anybody else on the “Ultimate Fighter” show, winning a total of 4 fights. His first fight out was against Alex Karalexis, and in a fashion that seemed befitting a match-up of an experienced fighter like Sanchez and a newbie like Karalexis, once the fight went to the ground, it was Sanchez that was in control. Locking in a rear naked choke, Sanchez won in the first round, sending a message to all the other competitors that he was ready to take on anybody to get his shot in the UFC.

For some reason, Josh Rafferty, another fighter who was a big underdog in the competition, hand picked Diego for a fight and again the more experienced fighter came out on top. Looking almost angry that Rafferty presumed he could beat him, Sanchez took the Cincinnati native down at will, punishing him at first and then winning again by rear naked choke. When it was announced that teammate would be facing teammate, Team Liddell members Sanchez and NCAA wrestling champion, Josh Koscheck were set to face off in the semi-finals.

In a fight that took Sanchez to only the second decision of his career, he seemed to dominate Koscheck throughout the fight. He was sharper on the feet and everytime that Koscheck took him down, Sanchez went for multiple submissions, never allowing Koscheck time to get any real offense started. When the fight ended it was obvious that Sanchez had won, and the judges gave him the decision.

In the finals of the “Ultimate Fighter”, Diego Sanchez took on Kenny Florian for the right to be the middleweight champion. Sanchez again was able to push his opponent around the octagon, putting Florian on his back and Sanchez reigned down punches and elbows, ending the fight in the first round. With the win, Diego Sanchez was crowned champion of the middleweight division and now makes his debut in the octagon.

Brian Gassaway is a very good striker who holds a 10-0 professional kickboxing record to compliment his time in MMA. Gassaway was most recently seen cornering friend and training partner, Shonie Carter at UFC 53 when he took on Nate Quarry. He will step into this fight the decided underdog, but should not be overlooked as he is a very dangerous fighter who is coming into this fight with absolutely nothing to lose. No one really expects him to win this fight and Gassaway can take a lot of chances that a great many fighters wouldn’t take in their pay per view debut.

Gassaway actually holds the advantage in this fight for overall experience, but this will be his first test for the UFC and that is no easy task at hand. The list of fighters who have seemingly frozen up in their first time out in the octagon is very long indeed, and Gassaway will have that same pressure when he takes on Sanchez. Diego Sanchez on the other hand has a whole different kind of pressure on him. Seeing as every fighter from the “Ultimate Fighter” show has won in their debut match, Sanchez is the last fighter to make his debut and he is sure to want to keep his undefeated streak alive.

Diego Sanchez is an extremely versatile fighter, but wins most of his matches on the ground. Gassaway on the other hand is primarily a stand-up fighter who has lost most of his fights on the ground. This is a very easy fight to determine who the winner will be. If Sanchez can bull rush his way ahead and get the takedown, expect him to go all out in the first round to end Gassaway’s night. Diego Sanchez is always a straight forward fighter who is relentless once he gets you in a position that is to his favor. Never waiting for an opponent to bring the fight to him, Sanchez works very hard from both the top and bottom when on the ground and he is an adequate striker on his feet as well. Gassaway will have a good reach advantage on the feet, standing at 6’1″ tall, but if he is tentative waiting for Diego to shoot in on him, this may be a short night for the fighter from Chicago.

Diego Sanchez will make his official octagon debut on Saturday night against Brian Gassaway at UFC 54 live from Las Vegas.