Diego Sanchez's career has been one long, meandering road when it comes to the scales. He debuted in the UFC a decade ago, winning The Ultimate Fighter 1 as a blown-up middleweight. Since then he's rotated between welterweight and lightweight to varying degrees of success, even making a memorable run to a title shot at 155 pounds.
But now he's readying to do something that's only been done once before in the UFC: drop down to featherweight and test the waters in his fourth different weight class.
"That's where the sport has gone right now," Sanchez said Monday on The MMA Hour. "Everybody is cutting weight. I see 155-pounders who are big. These guys are big. Even just seeing Nate Diaz in real life, he's a guy, he's big. He looks 180-190, maybe even 200 pounds. So for me, I'm like, well, I'm tired of being the small guy. I want to be the big guy. I want to be the guy with more power. I want to be the guy with better wrestling."
Sanchez (25-7) is listed at 5-foot-10 with a 72-inch reach, so while he isn't the biggest lightweight out there, he's also far from the smallest. Only one other person in UFC history has attempted the same feat Sanchez is attempting, and that's TUF 1 castmate Kenny Florian.
Florian was also listed at 5-foot-10, and his 2011 experiment left him with mixed results -- he was able to secure a title shot at featherweight, but he ultimately lost to 145-pound champion Jose Aldo. In retrospect, Florian has described the weight cut to featherweight as one of the worst experiences of his life. His body failed him in the hours before the Aldo fight, leaving him ill-prepared for the five-round war he waged against the Brazilian.
But Florian's experience aside, Sanchez is encouraged by the trends he sees around him, including one that's seen lightweights like Jeremy Stephens drop down and achieve quick success at 145 pounds.
"I see all these long, strong wrestlers, like Luke Rockhold, Jon Jones -- they're wrestlers but they're long," Sanchez said. "They have long distance, long reach. And for me, my whole career -- I started at 185, I dropped to 170, I fought most of my career at 170 -- even at 155, I feel like I just have always been the smaller guy. A smaller, shorter guy playing the same gameplan, trying to get inside of the long reach and get people down to the ground.
"And all in all, the real truth is, when I saw Conor McGregor drop down to 145, the guy is my size, if not bigger. Straight up. The guy is my size, if not bigger. And I was like, wow, look at this guy, he's holding a huge size advantage going into all of his fights. He has the reach. He has the leverage. It just made sense. To be able to see someone my size do it and do it effectively and do it correctly, it just made sense for me to do it."
While Sanchez is 2-3 over his last five fights, he very well could have been 0-5 if his controversial decision wins over Takanori Gomi and Ross Pearson had gone the other way. He remains a big name though, largely because of his pass successes and penchant for exciting fights, so UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby presented him a golden opportunity for his 145-pound debut on Nov. 21.
Ricardo Lamas is currently the No. 4 ranked 145-pounder on the UFC's media-generated rankings, and a win over him at The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2 Finale would instantly vault Sanchez's name into featherweight title contention.
"We started talking and he said lets do it," Sanchez said of Lamas. "Let's give the Mexican fans the fight they deserve. Two Latinos who aren't afraid, who are going to throw down, who aren't going to play that ‘run around the ring, ring around the rosie' type of fight. A man's fight. We're going to throw down for the Mexicans and it's going to be awesome.
"I know the guys are faster (at 145)," Sanchez added. "I get that. Everybody tells me that. I know that. I train with fast little guys who are like jackrabbits. But it's just a decision that I wanted to do, and it's been an exciting adventure. With great sacrifice comes great reward, and that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for great reward, big fights, and look, here we go. I got it. No. 4 in the world, Ricardo Lamas. I go in there, I do what I know I can do to this guy, dominate him, finish him, and I'm in the mix at 145."
Sanchez, a 33-year-old American of Mexican descent, called the fight in Monterrey a "dream come true." He said he's walking around at 175 pounds right now, plans to shed 10 pounds over the next two weeks, then start working on a 20-pound weight cut for November.
While it's not lost on Sanchez that he's the only remaining figure from TUF 1 still active in the sport, he was always the young gun of the cast, so it's not exactly surprising either. Sanchez now hopes to finish his career with a successful run at 145 pounds, and even despite his last few flat performances, he believes he has plenty left in the tank to get it done.
"I want to do it as long as I can," Sanchez said. "As long as I can do it effectively and as long as my body is holding up. We'll see how things go at 145. I do it for the passion. I don't do it for the money, I don't do it for the fame. I don't do it for my legacy. I do it because I love it, above all. I think it's the funnest thing in the world.
"I'm 33 now, and I want to fight as long as I can. I would be happy to be like a Dan Henderson or a Randy Couture, but we'll see. Every man has his day when it's time to call it quits. That's in God's hands. I'm a believer. I'm a believer that my destiny is in God's hands and when it's time to step away from the sport, it's time to step away from the sport. But as far as I'm concerned right now, even with injuries and stuff, I'm going to fight through it. I'm not going to quit. I'm not a quitter."