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No longer a brawler, Diego Sanchez vows to be a 'complete kickboxing fighting machine'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

DALLAS -- Once the deafening autumn cries faded from the architectural footprint of Houston's Toyota Center, days after the hoots and hollers and tipsy roars of bloodlust were just a memory, Diego Sanchez still couldn't stop the moment from replaying in his mind.

Sanchez, drowning in his own blood, somehow catching Gilbert Melendez with the right uppercut from hell. Melendez tumbling backward, his eyes sleepily rolling to the back of his head. And then a mistake.

Like the old saying goes, position over submission.

Who knows what could've happened had Sanchez rained down punches on a stunned Melendez at UFC 166 rather than jumping into a haphazard rear-naked choke attempt. Melendez, who's now slotted to challenge champ Anthony Pettis, very well may have been finished. Or maybe not. Regardless, the mere near-existence of that alternate reality, the one in which an unranked Sanchez upsets the No. 2 fighter in the division, would be enough to drive some fighters mad.

And it very well did for Sanchez, at least for a while, until the lightweight realized that his big mistake was only one little symptom of a much larger problem.

"That fight easily could've gone my way had I changed up my thought process," Sanchez reflected on Wednesday. "But you know what, it was meant to be for me to lose. And it's been the best thing in my career."

As only Sanchez could, the 32-year-old turned a negative into a positive on the advice of an elderly yet strangely brutally honest sensei of the oldest dojo in Albuquerque, NM, who, after the fight, not-so-subtly pointed out to Sanchez that... well, his footwork "sucked."

While an understandably taken aback Sanchez had to bite his tongue in the moment, later on he reflected on what the man said. And in true Sanchez fashion, the conversation became somewhat of a launching point for the latest stylistic evolution of one of the last remaining Ultimate Fighter 1 veterans.

"My motivation is one thing and one thing only, and that's to be great. Show my greatness," Sanchez said. "I'm done being good. I'm done being some brawler. I'm going to go in there and show greatness, because greatness is inside of me. I've shown little peaks and little moments throughout my career, but I'm tired of that.

"I went to work on my footwork. I also knew I was a headhunter in the (Melendez) fight, so I had to change up my whole striking style. What they're preparing for, what Tony Palafox and (UFC 171 opponent) Myles Jury are preparing for is Diego Sanchez-Gilbert Melendez, the Diego Sanchez that was in San Diego because they all knew me in San Diego. But that's not the Diego Sanchez that's going in there.

"I'm the Diego Sanchez who has diversified my striking to become a complete kickboxing fighting machine, with straight punches, with hooks, with kicks," Sanchez continued. "I've got all these different weapons in my toolbox to fight in this fight. When I get in the cage with Myles Jury, he's not going to know what's hitting him.

"I studied Cain Velasquez, and I've also studied Daniel Cormier. The proof is in the pudding. The style, if you have the wrestling ability, if you have the striking ability, if you have the conditioning ability, pressure is the way a predator fights. And I am the predator, and Myles Jury is the prey."

Along with his improved defensive sense, Sanchez credits a rabid hot yoga obsession for his sudden shift towards a newfound belief in the virtues of self-preservation. He refers to his body as a temple, and now that yoga has overtaken his life, he's "scrubbing the walls" and "out there mowing the lawn" to take care of his temple.

Though while all of that is well and good, that's not to say Sanchez plans to lose his flair for the dramatic once he and his undefeated, up-and-coming opponent meet inside the Octagon this Saturday.

"If I'm in the pocket and I need to bite down on my mouthpiece, I am 100-percent confident that my chin, my jaw and my neck are strong and I can take the blows," Sanchez said.

"But, is that the route that I'm going to go? No. I'm going to try to be effective, I'm going to try to move when a punch comes my way.

"He's going to be running around trying to tip-tap me, but I'm a predator," Sanchez continued. "He throws a kick, I'm going to catch it. He throws a punch, I'm going to slip. I'm going to move, I'm going to counter. I'm going to come forward.

"I'm ready. I'm motivated. I'm focused. I'm fighting for all the right reasons, and I just have a freight train behind this engine. Myles Jury is just a small little block on my tracks, and I'm going to explode through that little blockage and move onto the next thing."

Considering that all of his original TUF 1 castmates are either long gone or nearing the last of their legs, Sanchez's longevity in this sport is a relatively remarkable thing, especially when one considers his proclivity for inhuman wars of attrition.

Despite all of that, though, Sanchez insists that he feels as if the end is nowhere close to in sight, and that the grandest chapter of his history has yet to be written.

"I feel that I am coming into my prime. That's the best way that I can tell you guys. I'm in my prime right now," Sanchez vowed. "I'm entering my prime and it's a very exciting time for me, a very exciting time for the fans, a very exciting time for everybody, because I've done a lot of things in my career. I've given good fights, I've given good performances. I've had a lot of wins, and that was all not at my best. Now I'm going in there at my best and I'm excited to see what I'm really truly capable of doing."