Revamped Sanchez ready to roll

Thu, 03 Mar 03:22:00 2011

Trying to understand Diego Sanchez by listening to him on a conference call is like trying to master nuclear physics in 48 hours with an eighth-grade education.

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It simply can’t be done.

But for the better part of an hour last week, Sanchez was poked and prodded about his mental state heading into his Ultimate Fighting Championship match on Thursday against Martin Kampmann in the main event of UFC on Versus 3 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

I’m not sure how successful the amateur psychoanalysis attempted on Sanchez really was, but at least Sanchez clarified things about his age.

“When I turned 28 I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got two years until I’m 30,’ …” Sanchez, a former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner, explained.

If I have this figured correctly, now that he’s 29, in six years he’ll be 35 and in 11 he’ll be 40.

I think.

He also revealed during the call that he was swindled out of $175,000, that he got caught up in being famous, and that he’s not only back living in his native Albuquerque, N.M., but that he’s dropped cable and is practicing with his high school wrestling team.

After back-to-back losses, including a horrendous, one-sided defeat to B.J. Penn in a lightweight title bout at UFC 107 on Dec. 12, 2009, Sanchez opted to start over. He returned to train with Greg Jackson and says he dedicated himself to the game like he hadn’t done before.

“I went through a real rough situation in San Diego that brought me into a lot of emotional depression and that weighs hard on me,” Sanchez said. “The B.J. Penn fight was really hard for me the way I lost, getting cut up and getting hands put on me the way I did. That never happened to me in my career. So I had to deal with that and when I came home, you know what, I moved out of the city. I moved out into the mountains.

“And that was the best thing I ever did because, just being out there away from the city. I don’t even have cable at my house. I feel real spiritual and I’m real close to God. And, you know, I just make sure that I get my work done and I rest well and I’ll have fun after the fight.”

I don’t quite get the connection between dumping cable and fighting well, but hey, if it works, who am I to argue? I guess saving 80 bucks a month on the cable bill is better than running around shouting “Yes!” all the time and making people look at you funny, like Sanchez was doing before the Penn fight.

To beat Kampmann, one of the UFC’s most underrated fighters, Sanchez will need to do one thing and do it well: He’ll need to outwrestle the Dutchman. Kampmann is no slouch on the ground – He was more than competitive in a narrow loss in October to grappling master Jake Shields – but it would seem to be Sanchez’s best shot to win, given Kampmann’s prowess with his fists.

Kampmann, who told Yahoo! Sports he’s agonised about the loss to Shields because it was so winnable, said during the conference call that he rushed himself in trying to submit Shields and that led to his problems.

“I was a little bit too tentative in the standup,” Kampmann said of his performance in the Shields fight. “I was worrying too much about the takedown. And when I was on top, on the ground, I was trying too hard to submit him and I gave up top position a couple times. I was too eager to finish and I should have just stuck to punching him some more in the face.”

Punching someone in the face during a fight is never a bad strategy, so Kampmann may be onto something.

If he is, Sanchez isn’t too concerned about it. His new approach has been to immerse himself in training so that the fight turns out to be easier than his practice.

Now, I’ve covered thousands of fights in my life and I’ve never heard one fighter say before a fight that he isn’t in great shape or that he has had a poor camp. They all say they’ve trained hard and that, essentially, the fight is the reward.

But Sanchez has been weight training in an effort to add muscle to his frame and has practiced with former Iowa State wrestler Willie Parks. His impressive losing-streak-ending win over Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 in October may be the most important reason for his positive outlook, but Sanchez believes the work he’s done with Parks and the team at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque has turned him into a different man.

“My motto is ‘Just earn it,’ ” Sanchez said. “After I had those two losses, I changed everything. I’m just back to hard work. I want to go into every fight with a mindset that, ‘You know what, I already earned this ‘W’ and it’s mine, I’m going to take it and, I mean, it doesn’t matter.’ You know, it doesn’t matter what my opponent has done. I know that I’ve done everything possible in my ability to get the ‘W’ and that’s where I stand right now. I’m very confident going into this fight.”

Both are confident, and with good reason. They’re outstanding fighters with impressive records. Sanchez is 22-4 overall and 11-4 in the UFC. He’s got impressive wins over the likes of Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz, Joe Stevenson and Thiago. Kampmann is 17-4 overall and 8-3 in the UFC, with big wins over Carlos Condit, Jorge Rivera and Thiago.

So what it really comes down to is a bout between a pair of very good fighters who need to implement and stick to their game plans.

Sanchez is a free spirit who isn’t easy to understand, but he’s also a guy who is highly motivated. He didn’t deal well with the fame that the UFC’s meteoric rise in popularity brought him, but he seems to have come to some kind of understanding.

Early in his career, he was a fighter who became a celebrity. As his notoriety grew, he became a celebrity who also happened to fight.

There’s a big difference.

If he gets back to what he once was – being a fierce, aggressive, committed fighter – he’ll remain a celebrity, even if he no longer has a taste for the high life.

“I really hit rock bottom and I had to come back home,” Sanchez said. “I needed my family love. I was humbled 100 percent. I was humbled back down to zero. I had no ego, no nothing, just humble. After the (Penn) loss, I was still in the funk. I was still in the funk for John Hathaway. I was training, (but) I was going to the bar and drinking beer after training. I didn’t even take him seriously at all. I thought, ‘I’m going to go in there and I’m going to knock this guy out. I’m going to take him down,’ and, in the first round, I got hit with a knee in the face real hard and I couldn’t recover from it.

“And I wasn’t in the physical shape or the spiritual or the mental shape (I should have been in). I shouldn’t have been in the ring for that fight, period. After that fight I said, ‘I’m going to get back to what got me there and that was Greg Jackson, high altitude, and just earning it.’ ”

I’m no psychologist, but I think he gets it. Win or lose on Thursday, I’m betting that Sanchez comes out fighting.

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

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