If there were any questions surrounding Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez’s debut at lightweight going into his fight with Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, they were all certainly answered following the bout.
Sanchez, the original winner of The Ultimate Fighter at middleweight, was taking a big risk dropping down to lightweight. Naturally walking around at 190 pounds, many thought the drop to 155 for weight-ins, and the jump back up to 170 for the actual fight, would throw his body for a loop. And unless you’ve experienced that loop first hand, its hard to say how your body will despond. A loss of speed, a lack of energy, and poor cardio were all issues many thought would hamper Sanchez in his first go round.
Add in the fact that he would be facing Stevenson, one of the UFC’s top lightweights, early projections were not in Sanchez’s favor.
From the opening minutes though Sanchez seemed to dispel his critics. He seemed quicker than at welterweight, his power seemed to transfer over along with his natural skill set.
Sanchez was able to pick apart Stevenson at ease, and everything became even easier when it was apparent Stevenson had no intentions of taking the fight to the ground. In what became a kickboxing match Sanchez utilized the jab from his waist to control the tempo of the one dimensional fight.
Now no longer just a ground and pound fighter with an inability to stop fights, Sanchez seems to be a complete fighter in every asset of his game.
It was thought before this fight with Stevenson that Sanchez was dropping to lightweight to avoid the top talent at welterweight. After losses to Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, Sanchez just didn’t seem like the same fighter anymore. Now the move seems like a calculated career move, with a huge upside.
If he’s able to continue to make weight at 155, and that could become an issue, Sanchez can make a serious run at dominating the weight class.
His future could hold a second fight with Kenny Florian which presents an intriguing match up for both the fighters and the UFC. Both men are totally different fighters since they squared off at TUF season one finale. A title shot vs. B.J. Penn will need to be earned despite this impressive victory. Many people might point to Sean Sherk as his next likely opponent, but a match with Clay Guida might be the most alluring. Both men like to keep up an extremely fast pace to their fights and look to slug it out on their feet or on the ground.
One thing is for sure his next fight will be against one of the upper echelon fighters the division as to offer and we will see if he was for real in his debut, or if the win was product of the fight being one dimensional.
At 170 a motivated Sanchez was a huge challenge for anyone to take on, but motivated and determined at 155 might be a scary and unstoppable proposition to tango with.
If everything goes his way, Sanchez could unleash a nightmare on the UFC lightweight division in 2009.