When fans think about the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar immediately come to mind because of their instant classic – a live shootout that saved the struggling UFC.
Griffin scored a controversial unanimous decision to take the light heavyweight tournament and secure a six-figure UFC contract. However, Bonnar was also awarded the same deal for his bloody efforts.
What always seems to get lost in the madness of that magical night is that a then-23-year-old Diego Sanchez (pictured) is technically the original TUF 1 winner because his TKO victory over Kenny Florian took place right before Griffin and Bonnar stole the show.
Sanchez won the TUF middleweight tourney exactly ten years ago today and has been involved in epic war after epic war ever since.
A lot can happen over a decade, and Sanchez’s lengthy résumé proves it. He’s won a bunch of fights and lost some (13-7 since taking TUF 1), hopped divisions, got popped for marijuana, earned six “Fight of the Night” and two “Fight of the Year” (2006 Karo Parisyan, 2009 Clay Guida) honors, lost a lightweight title tilt to then-champ BJ Penn, changed his nickname, thankfully gave birth to the Yes! cartwheel, just to name a few.
While Sanchez’s contributions to mixed martial arts – and more specifically, the UFC at a time when the company desperately needed the next generation to take them to the next level – are vast, is his career as accomplished as it could have been.
“The Nightmare” turned “The Dream” shot out the gates by winning his first 17 professional fights. However, through 21 UFC scraps, his 2009 TKO defeat to Penn is the only time Sanchez has sniffed a championship affair. He hasn’t even competed in a top contender bout outside of beating Guida to earn a crack at Penn.
The sad part is, Sanchez has recently started to sound like someone who has fought in the UFC for 10 years. Three fights ago, Sanchez lost a unanimous decision to Gilbert Melendez in a thrilling shootout. Let’s be honest, nearly all of Sanchez’s performances are exciting because he leaves nothing in the cage except his blood, sweat and tears.
During his post-fight speech, Sanchez was slurring to the point of no understanding. Many in the media thought his days of all-out warring had finally caught up to him.
Of Sanchez’s 21 UFC contests, 14 have gone the distance. And if you know Sanchez, these aren’t your lay-and-pray decisions that are currently bombarding MMA. These are you’re-going-to-have-to-kill-me-to-beat-me decisions.
Two bouts ago, Sanchez finally realized that he needed to change his mentality. After 12 years in the MMA game, the veteran discovered that the face-to-fist defense is no bueno for life after fighting.
Now 33 – and old 33, at that – Sanchez knows there is no hoisting a UFC belt in his future.
When it’s all said and done, Sanchez will likely be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. But sifting past all of the thrillers and barnburners, could there have been more? Should there have been more?
Maybe, but maybe not. Sanchez has had a solid career, and he has yet to publicly utter anything about retirement.
Ten years later, Sanchez is still as TUF as ever.