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Diego Sanchez wants a title shot after beating his 'golden ticket'

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MMA Fighting, Andy Hemingway

HOUSTON, Texas -- Diego Sanchez may be unranked in the UFC lightweight division, but that isn't stopping him from dreaming large.

When Sanchez tests his mettle against the division's No. 2 ranked fighter, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166 on Saturday night, he'll do so with one singular goal on his mind.

"Gilbert Melendez is my golden ticket," Sanchez declared on Wednesday. "I've done it before. I fought two fights in 2009 at 155. Straight to the belt.

"(Melendez) has never been stopped. He avenged two of his three losses. His only loss is to Benson Henderson in a split decision that I felt went his way, so in a way I'm fighting a guy who's almost untainted. And if I go in there, and I stop this guy, I think it makes a real case for a title shot."

When Sanchez and Melendez collide, the bout will snap a streak of ten consecutive contests in which Melendez has prepared for a five-round fight, a testament to his skills and longevity as champion.

For Sanchez, the statistic supports an old familiar refrain which used to bother Melendez to no end -- the idea that he's perpetually underrated and disrespected because of his non-UFC résumé. Yet Sanchez won't fall for the trap, as he views his opponent in higher regard than the current UFC titleholder.

"He's a more well-rounded fighter than Anthony Pettis," Sanchez said. "I have a lot of respect for the champ, but I don't see him lasting long in this division. I see him eventually losing his belt and making the drop to 145 to become a multiple weight division champion. The bottom line is, guys are big. Guys are getting big. There's guys like me, I'm may be walking into the cage at 180 on Saturday night."

Like Melendez, it seems as if Sanchez views the 155-pound division to be open season now that Henderson is no longer tossing contenders off the heap. And despite his past troubles, including a slew of injuries that he says saved his career, Sanchez vows to stop the lightweight/welterweight flip-flopping that landed himself in no man's land.

"My goal is to be the best 155-pounder in the world," Sanchez said. "I always made excuses that I wasn't a 155-pounder, that I was stuck in between 170 and 155, that we needed a 165-pound weight class. I was always adjusting and going back and forth, and creating more difficulties in my training. Well now I just accepted that I have to do extra to be a 155-pounder. I have to work harder on my nutrition. I have to contain my weight at a certain weight. I can't let myself blow back up after fights. I've just embraced the fact that I am a 155-pounder."

To hear Sanchez proclaim a renewed commitment to his career isn't anything new. Though this time he's right about one thing -- when he's at his best, Sanchez is a nightmare fight for anybody in the world. And that, he believes, is what will make the difference come Saturday.

"The bottom line is, Gilbert and me, we used to train together. He knows what I'm capable of when I'm on-point. There was times where we were sparring and I'd be getting the better of the round," Sanchez finished.

"I don't know if he's banking that my time has passed me by, but I'm fully recovered from my injuries and this is going to be a fresh start in the 155-pound division."