Sanchez, the longtime UFC veteran since winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, returns to the Octagon next Wednesday, taking on Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Fuel TV 1. While Sanchez is deeply focused on the upcoming match, acknowledging how tough of a challenge Ellenberger is, it has been an even tougher challenge dealing with personal events outside of the cage. Those events have shaped Sanchez’s life over the last few years.
For many years, as Sanchez puts it, he was “enjoying the life” for far too long. Whether that was being out with others drinking, smoking, or doing other activities, Sanchez was jeopardizing his career. But once those activities began jeopardizing his personal life, he knew he had to change.
After going through financial struggles, admitting he lost a significant amount of money through a friend he trusted, Sanchez started to stray from what had brought him so much success. He began partying too much, and his training suffered because of it.
Then he fell into a deeper hole, as he suffered through a dispute with a woman who proclaimed she gave birth to a child that was his. As he tried to make the best of the situation, even attempting to fight for custody, it all fell apart, as the results of a DNA test determined the child was not Sanchez’s.
But even through all of that, Sanchez was able to find peace in his life. He managed to turn his life around, and maintain a much more positive attitude. This even spawned the idea of changing his nickname from “Nightmare” to “Dream,” signifying just how thankful he is.
Now Sanchez sees himself marking another milestone in his storied career, as he will be entering the cage for the first time as a married man.
“This time around, I’m not fighting for just me,” Sanchez told MMAFrenzy.com. “I am fighting for my wife and the rest of my family. My wife is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Now is the beginning of the second half of my career – the better half. I am excited to enter this fight with a clear mind.”
A clear mind can certainly be a tough task, especially coming off the longest layoff of your UFC career. Having last fought in March 2011 at UFC on Versus 3 against Martin Kampmann, Sanchez was expected to fight Matt Hughes at UFC 135 in September. Unfortunately, Sanchez sustained a broken hand, causing him to withdraw from the fight, and extending his layoff. But Sanchez did not take it easy during the time off, a break he now sees as a blessing.
“As soon as my hand was broken, I was back five days later training everything I could do without my hand,” Sanchez explained. “I gained ten pounds of muscle, hoping to become a much more natural welterweight. I did my best to turn this injury into a blessing. That is part of what makes a fighter a champion.”
Now Sanchez gets to put that all to the test, taking on top contender Jake Ellenberger on Wednesday. He will be fighting “The Juggernaut” in Ellenberger’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. But Sanchez does not see that as a challenge, knowing that it is only one other person that affects the fight, not the thousands in the stands.
“Fighting in Omaha will only test me more,” said Sanchez. “I learned long ago that it does not matter what is said, because only the fight matters. All of the training beforehand, everything you eat, everything you do to prepare, that is what matters. The littlest decisions can make the biggest impact on a fight.
“Fighting Jake, I am just thrilled to get in and do what I was born to do. I got in this sport to fight guys that can challenge me. This is going to be a war because I am a warrior, and Jake is a warrior.”
A war was promised between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit, but that did not come to fruition. Condit, Sanchez’s teammate at Jackson’s MMA, won via unanimous decision. That decision has become a subject of controversy since the score was announced. Whether that is due to pre-fight promises or the style that Condit deployed during the fight, Sanchez promises that will not take place two weeks in a row.
“This fight will absolutely excite people,” said Sanchez. “I’m fighting a guy like me – someone who is not afraid and is willing to fight. Regarding Carlos and what happened in that fight, Carlos got the win, and that is all that matters in this sport. The bottom line is [Nick] Diaz had opportunities to change his gameplan, and he didn’t. Some guys fight a points fight, and it is up to you to adapt to that.”
Sanchez has experience with controversial decisions, specifically in his most recent fight, a win over Martin Kampmann last March. Sanchez won via unanimous decision, but many fans and journalists questioned the decision, citing the damage Kampmann caused to Sanchez’s face throughout the fight. But even with a badly cut and bruised face, Sanchez won the fight on all three judges’ cards. He is quick to point that out whenever the subject is brought up.
“To this day, I still feel I earned the victory,” explained Sanchez. “I never slowed down; even after those shots I took. Both Diaz and Kampmann never changed what they were doing, and that’s why they lost. It was a unanimous decision for a reason, not a split decision. I got the points needed to win. Judges don’t score blood, they score the fight.”
Now Sanchez will have a chance to continue that momentum that he started with that win. With the welterweight division in flux due to champion Georges St. Pierre’s injury, many fighters are vying for the opportunity to cement their status as a top contender in the division. Ellenberger is seen as one of those contenders.
Ellenberger last fought in September, impressively defeating Jake Shields within a minute by knockout. The former college wrestler has a strong array of strikes with very powerful punches. With a five fight win streak, and having not lost since September 2009, he is likely close to a title shot.
That is just one of the many challenges in front of Sanchez. But he prides himself in being able to get through those challenges.
“Jake is the number one welterweight contender, in my opinion,” said Sanchez. “Jake is a on a tear, lately, but I know I can compete with anyone.”
As for what lies in the future for Sanchez, he only sees it continuing in the right direction.
“I’ve paid my dues in this sport. I’ve gone through so much just to get here. After Jake, whenever they need me, I’ll be ready to go. If they see me ready to be a number one contender, that’s great. If not, I’ll still be preparing because I am still always improving.
“We’ll see what happens with Carlos Condit and Georges St. Pierre and everything else that happens in the division. Joe Silva will put together a great fight for me that will sell. I know he’ll put together the right one that will excite people because I am a ‘Fight of the Night’ fighter.”
With that spirit, Sanchez is proving he truly is a fighter, both inside and outside of the cage.