Fighters like Diego Sanchez don’t come around too often. The longtime UFC veteran has managed to step inside of the Octagon 22 times since winning season one of The Ultimate Fighter, which includes victories over Nick Diaz, Takanori Gomi, Martin Kampmann, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson and Karo Parisyan. Sanchez has gone from “The Nightmare” to “The Dream” and back to “The Nightmare” without skipping a beat.
But at some point, despite all of his past accomplishments, we need to measure Sanchez’s recent success as a 34-year-old fighter who has put a lot of mileage on his body. While Sanchez hasn’t lost back-to-back fights since 2009-10, he also hasn’t won back-to-back fights since 2010-11. Two of his total three victories since the beginning of 2013 have come way of split decision and he just dropped his first true knockout loss of his career when Joe Lauzon ended his night early at UFC 200 this past July.
With all of that in mind, what can we make of Sanchez at this point of his career? Does he still possess some sort of worth to a promotion that has completely changed form since the time Sanchez started competing? Can the case be made that Sanchez has done enough throughout his career, much like a Dan Henderson, to bypass any potential UFC chopping block and retire on his own accord?
The latter sure seems like the most logical reality for Sanchez moving forward. Despite fading physically and failing to evolve any facet of his skill set for years, “The Nightmare” is simply uncuttable. As one of the last members of a dying breed, the Greg Jackson pupil is too raw of a fighter to let go. He has put too much blood, sweat and ferocity into his sport to be hung out to dry. Even if Sanchez loses his upcoming lightweight tilt opposite promotional newcomer Marcin Held this coming weekend at UFC Fight Night 98, his promotional stock should remain the same.
One of the biggest reasons why Sanchez is an uncuttable entity in 2016 is the fact that he possesses divisional liquidity. Over the course of the last four years, Sanchez has competed at 145 pounds, 155 pounds and 170 pounds. That makes him one of the more versatile threats on the UFC roster. While his cut down to featherweight didn’t look all too healthy, it’s a move that Sanchez would more than likely be willing to make again in the future if the price was right. His ability to change up weight classes at the drop of the dime allows him to leave recent troubles behind and enter the Octagon on the heels of a fresh start. It shouldn’t be considered a loophole, but it’s a perk that Sanchez has taken advantage of later in his career. Not to mention he used to fight as a middleweight.
The other reason why Sanchez would never get his UFC walking papers is the fact that he fights with the heart of a warrior. As someone who never wilts under the pressure of an opponent, Sanchez has always been regarded as one of the toughest fighters in the sport. His hypnotic ferocity and innate brutality satisfy almost every natural sense, making him one of the most marketable fighters on the roster when it comes to mainstream fans. Earning eight Fight of the Night honors and three Fight of the Year performances doesn’t just happen over night. Sanchez has spilled blood alongside some of the best in the sport in effort to put fans in the seats and that has earned him a roster spot forever.
At the end of the day, there are some fighters the UFC just doesn’t cut. The promotion’s decision to keep a struggling or aging fighter on board does have to do with their future potential, but it also has to do with their fighting style. That’s why Chuck Liddell was given the luxury of losing five out of his last six Octagon appearances before retiring, why Dan Henderson was awarded a middleweight title shot when he all but announced his retirement and why more middle-of-the-line names like Jake Ellenberger and Jessica Eye have been given countless attempts to right a sinking ship. Sanchez falls into this category and has a better UFC track record than all of these names except “The Iceman.”
Win or lose, Sanchez is here to say. Because if there was ever a fighter not to cut, it’s a TUF 1 winner.