Like many others who went on to become mixed martial artists, Diego Sanchez was a fan of the Pride Fighting Championship before he decided to head down to his nearest gym and see if he had what it takes.
Eleven years and 29 fights into his career, the Albuquerque-based fighter will finally get a chance to fight in Pride's most famous arena. Sanchez will face one of Japan's most famous homegrown MMA stars, former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi, on the main card of UFC on Fuel 8 at the Saitama Super Arena.
And Sanchez, who has always been known to wear his heart on his sleeve, can't hide his excitement for Saturday's showdown.
"Coming to Japan was always a great goal and a dream of mine," Sanchez said. "Growing up, fighting through King of the Cage and even before the UFC and being on The Ultimate Figher, I always had a dream of coming to fight in wherever fighting most prominent in Pride."
Somewhere along the way, Sanchez figured he might never get the chance to live out that dream.
"It was something that I always dreamed of doing, and I was always like, well, my career kept going and going and going, I guess I'm just never going to make it out there," he said.
But when Sanchez, who hasn't fought in just over a year, decided he was going to drop back down to the lightweight division, the planets aligned and his long-sought opportunity came to fruition.
"I guess when I decided to make the move back to 155, I looked at opponents, and I figured, what's a better opportunity than to come out here to Japan, live one of my dreams, and fight one of the greatest fighters to come out of Japan in his own hometown?" Sanchez asked.
Sanchez (23-5) won't make a prediction for the match with Gomi (34-8), who has won his last two fights. The only thing he promises is the type of fight for which both fighters have long been known.
"That's a perfect situation for war and a great battle and that's what I live for and that's what I came out here to do," Sanchez said.