The writing is already on the wall for Diego Sanchez.
It has been for years. Seven fight of the night performances and 14 years of relentless punishment in professional competition ensured that he would never age like fine wine. Although he is the last of his kind still competing in the UFC — one of the legendary cast members of the original Ultimate Fighter — the hourglass is already trickling down to the last remnants of dust.
It’s safe to say his days as a UFC title contender are now a distant memory. He is no longer a ranked fighter on the roster, and the physical deterioration from so many battles over the years has finally caught up with him. That legendary chin he has been praised for over the course of his career couldn’t withstand a 26-second barrage of strikes from Joe Lauzon a few months ago at UFC 200.
It was the first time Sanchez had ever legitimately been stopped by strikes.
But it was also a moment of clarity. Through a vacuum, we had grown accustomed to watching Sanchez absorb immeasurable punishment, while simultaneously ignoring the future ramifications of his caveman fighting style. It was looked at as the price of entertainment, and Sanchez paid that costly admission more than most. Even though he might very well be the toughest fighter in UFC history, Father Time has him on his last legs at only 34 years of age.
It’s unimaginable to even envision a world where Diego Sanchez isn’t fighting in the UFC. He is part of that original cast of hopefuls that helped MMA reach the height of its popularity. That group also included Forrest Griffin, Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian, Chris Leben, Stephen Bonnar, Mike Swick and Nate Quarry.
Koscheck is the only fighter besides Sanchez still competing. He is slated to make his debut in Bellator in January. All of the other chapters have closed permanently.
Sanchez is the last of a dying breed in the UFC. He is the crown jewel of an era built on guts, blood and heavy metal music. The crazy-eyed staredowns, “yes” chants and unforgettable performances has endeared Sanchez to the UFC as well as fans.
There is no such thing as point-fighting as far as Sanchez is concerned. He’d come forward swinging if he was in the cage with a 400-pound gorilla.
But the fighters at the top are better than they’ve ever been. The days of Sanchez sprinting across the cage in a straight line and dumping opponents on their head are over. Evolution has abolished the one-dimensional rules the sport once lived by, and that lone truth has left fighters like Sanchez frozen in time.
If he can’t overwhelm opponents with grappling and a hellacious pace, he typically turns into a wild boxer with simplified punching combinations and a rear kick. However, there are times when nostalgia peaks through the surface and he’s able to goad opponents into wild exchanges. Those are the moments that remind us of Sanchez’s uniqueness. They tell a story of a man who simply loves fighting.
Fans have watched Sanchez transform from “Nightmare” to “The Dream” and back to “Nightmare” over the last 10 years, but he is the same crowd-pleasing fighter that stepped onto the set of The Ultimate Fighter. He is the same fighter that challenged UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn for the lightweight title.
And he’ll be the last to leave behind a legacy of a select group of individuals that helped make MMA the sport that is today.