Diego Sanchez and the Dangers of Fame in MMA

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Diego Sanchez’s past several years could serve as a cautionary tale about the potential dangers that come along with the notoriety of being an MMA fighter.

In June 2009, Sanchez was at the height of his MMA career. He had defeated Clay Guida to improve his MMA career record to 21-2. More importantly, the win assured him his next fight would be for the UFC lightweight title against champion B.J. Penn.

Sanchez had proven himself inside the UFC Octagon. But outside, it was a different story.

"I got sucked real deep into the fame and the money," Sanchez said recently on The MMA Hour. "I was a bachelor and I got sucked into a bad life of partying. I got really into smoking weed, drinking, partying. After my Clay Guida fight, I went down a bad path, man. It was just not a good path. After my loss to B.J. Penn it just got worse. I got really out of control."

If careless spending wasn’t enough of a problem, the Albuquerque native fell victim to an investment scam.

"To make it worse, one of my best friends completely robbed me blind," Sanchez said. "Set me up and embezzled me for about $150,000."

And so, three months after challenging for the UFC lightweight title, Sanchez was broke.

"In February of 2010, I had hit rock bottom, completely. I was broke. I was down and out, man," Sanchez recalled. "This guy had run me dry. The money had I set away to pay taxes, I was $230,000 in debt with the I.R.S."

Sanchez relied on drugs and alcohol to mask his personal and financial difficulties. Sanchez failed to stop even when he had his next fight lined up.

"I was in a bad place. The only place to cover this up, the depression and anxiety, was the drinking and smoking weed. I was smoking so much weed it was ridiculous. And I was still drinking leading up to Hathaway fight. I knew I had no place stepping in the cage. But I had to because I needed the money."

Sanchez was upset by British rising star John Hathaway in a unanimous decision, suffering back-to-back losses for only the second time in his career.

After the fight, a new addition to Sanchez's life forced him to turn his life around. Ironically, this "blessing" was brought on once again from being a victim of his own fame.

A woman whom Sanchez had met online deceived the fighter into believing he was the father of their child. Based on the child’s striking similarities, Sanchez foregone a DNA test and raised the child as his own.

The path to discovering the truth began when he married another woman and was no longer allowed by the mother to visit the child.


In an attempt to gain custody of the child, Sanchez hired an attorney. During the process, Sanchez finally underwent a DNA test and learned there were no blood ties.

"I was crushed. It was heartbreaking for me that he wasn’t mine," Sanchez said. "I had to take it for what it was and just accept it ...

"The girl that put me through this, she knew all along he wasn’t mine." Sanchez continued. "It was all a big plan to get money or something: the money, the fame, she wanted to be in the limelight and say she had Diego Sanchez’s son … I don’t know."

Having overcome these challenges, Sanchez immersed himself in God. Completely, this time. And after his MMA career is over, Sanchez intends to work for the ministry full-time.

"I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ, for real," Sanchez said. "I was never truly, according to his righteousness. I just turned everything around and put everything in God’s hands. "

Since the loss to Hathaway, Sanchez has defeated two top welterweights in Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann and will next face Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FUEL TV on Feb. 15. The winner could conceivably be within reach of a title shot.

"I still believe that it’s in my destiny to be a world champion," Sanchez said. "It’s in God’s hands. I’m just going to do my part and work as hard as I can."

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