411 MMA Interviews: Diego Sanchez
Recently, we got the chance to catch up and speak with UFC fighter and former title contender, Diego “The Axe Murder” Sanchez. Sanchez was in Houston, Texas meeting with fans and appearing at Hooters for a viewing party for UFC 160 last month. Hooters is now one of Sanchez’s new corporate sponsors. When he was last in the cage, Sanchez beat Takanori Gomi at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in Saitama, Japan. Sanchez came out of the fight with a tight split decision win. Currently, Sanchez is next expected to fight at UFC 164 later this summer, against an opponent still to be determined.
Jeffrey Harris: Is this deal you have with Hooters through the UFC or it through you?
Diego Sanchez: It’s through me. It’s a good deal, and I’m excited about it. Good sponsorship deals are not easy to come by. I’ve been in this sport for a while, and when you get a good corporate company behind you that will support you and your family and the cause, it can be a very good thing for everybody.
Jeffrey Harris: Is the plan for you still to fight at UFC 164 in Milwaukee?
Diego Sanchez: Yes. That’s the plan. I’m waiting to hear back from Mr. [Joe] Silva and find out who my opponent is going to be. I told him the fight I want. The fight I’m looking for is Josh Thomson. I kind of made that obvious. Or Nate Diaz. Or a possible Gilbert Melendez. I think those are three of the top guys up there. There are so many good guys, those are the three I think would make for really, really good fights that would … because UFC 164 is a pay-per-view, and I want I want to be on that PPV card – on the main card and against someone who is going to give the fans their money’s worth.
Jeffrey Harris: At UFC on Fuel TV 8, you went to Japan and had a tough fight with Takanori Gomi, the hometown boy, the Fireball Kid. How was it fighting the hometown guy in Japan and coming out of it with a win?
Diego Sanchez: Fighting in Japan was definitely one of the biggest challenges of my career. Coming off a nine month layoff, I was nine months out of the gym and a year out of the cage. I was coming off some injuries. It was a very, very difficult weight cut for me. And going to Japan made it much worse with the jetlag and just not being to find the stuff I needed. There were no IV’s. It was a difficult situation, but I got in there and I gave it everything I had. I felt I fought a smart fight. And I did everything I had to do to win. Some people said that there was some controversy and some people said that I lost the fight. I do not feel that was the case at all. I didn’t take any damage in that at all. Gomi was trying to put in some pressure, but all the punches he was throwing were getting blocked. And the harder shots that I was landing on him were making him cringe up. I know that’s what the judges were hearing when I was hitting him with body shots, and he was going “*Oooh!* *Oooh!*” And when you watch a fight live, it’s a lot different than watching it on TV. You don’t really get to feel the thump of the punches. You don’t see the ones or hear the ones that do the damage. I thought I really won all three rounds. I went back and I watched the fight ten times. I watched it in slow-mo. I watched it on mute, and I feel that I won every round. I think what made most of the controversy was Dana White saying that he felt that I lost the fight. But Dana White wasn’t there at the fight. He might’ve been watching it on TV. And I dunno, maybe he was made at me because I missed weight by two pounds and that does piss off Dana White. I don’t know what the case was, but I felt I won the fight. I wanted to win, and that’s what matters. And so, I’m excited just to come forward and push for bigger and better things. I feel like I got a good win on a guy who was on a two-fight win streak. So I take those two fights with me, and I consider myself on a roll. And I want to fight someone who’s a top contender. I want a real challenge because as a fighter I step up in those challenges. And I’m excited to come fight in America. I’m really excited to fight anywhere, except in Japan and just excited for my return.
Jeffrey Harris: So you don’t want to fight again in Japan?
Diego Sanchez: It’s something I always wanted to do and I did it. And if UFC wants me to go back, I’ll go back. But I’d rather fight at home, here in the States, or Canada. I’ve never gone to Brazil, but I’ve been overseas. I did London. I’ll fight wherever the UFC wants me, but Japan was just hard. You can’t really eat anything. You can’t get your food that you need. It was just a difficult situation for me being the fight coming off of a year layoff and dropping a weight class. But that’s what comes with it. And you live, you learn. I did some things wrong that I should’ve done right, and I’m going to get right this next time.
Jeffrey Harris: What did you do wrong this time?
Diego Sanchez: A big part of my weight cut is distilled water. The biggest thing I thing I did wrong was not listen to my coach. It was Greg Jackson who told me, “You need to ship everything out there, that way you have everything out there before you go.” But I was like, “OK, I’ll ship out whatever I need, but distilled water? It’s just water and heavy.” And I was just going to do some research on the internet. And as far as the internet says, they have distilled water out there for people who have sleep apnia machines. They use distilled water. I did the research, and they said they have it out there. And when I got out there, there was no distilled water. I went to hospitals. I searched the whole city of Tokyo, and they do not have distilled water. That really threw me off. I was within the striking range. I was about nine pounds over the day before weigh-ins when Greg Jackson had arrived at the hotel. And so I told Greg Jackson, I can’t find distilled water. Will you pack a suitcase and bring me the distilled water so I can do what I’ve done for all my other fights – a pound of distilled water 72 hours before the weigh-in, equivalence of about three days. And you just pound, pound, pound; water load yourself with distilled water, and it depletes your body of all its minerals where you don’t hold any water. And it really helps with the weight cut. And when Greg got there, I was about nine pounds over. And he came in a little late. He’s a busy guy. He showed up a little late – on the Thursday before the fight. And he brings the water, and I start pounding a day before the weigh-ins. And I probably drank a gallon and a half of it before I could – as much as I could. I was up peeing all night thinking it was going to work. I hadn’t had any sodium in my system for two weeks basically; just the sodium in turkey or when I was eating. I was like I’m going to make it. I was nine pounds over. And I woke up in the morning and I was twelve pounds over. I got up and – I got up at 5:45AM and started cutting the weight. I cut weight all the way to the scale, and the last two pounds would not come off. It was what it was. But the main moral of the story is that I really busted my ass all morning, all day long cutting weight. I must’ve lost at least 10 miles on the treadmill, biking, a little morning grappling. I must’ve worked out six hours straight the day before the fight. There’s only so much you can recover from that. But thank god I put in the hard work and the conditioning in Albuquerque. The high elevation helped me I believe. So I was still able to go into the fight and still give a good performance. I was not at my best. If I was at my best, I would’ve been able to put the pressure a little more, fight a little differently. It is what it is. As fighters, we go through a lot of situations, and ups and downs and injuries and all kinds of crazy stuff. It was just one of those things where I was like, “alright. I want this challenge. I need this challenge. I need to get back in the swing of things.” And I did it. I got in there and I fought to the best of my abilities.
Jeffrey Harris: Are you sure lightweight is where you should be right now and you will be able to make the weight cut next time?
Diego Sanchez: Oh without a doubt I’ll make the weight cut next time. Next time, it will be a lot easier. And yeah, it’s just – I do believe that lightweight is where I belong. I should have a size advantage if done right, if done correctly. I feel like I have a significant size advantage, and the height and the reach is the main thing. Me throwing head kicks at 170 is not as practical as it is at 155. 155 is where I belong. If I have to a 10 day fast, I’ll do a 10 day fast. I’m going to make 155 for sure.
Jeffrey Harris: Speaking of head kicks, I remember that one you threw at Clay Guida in your Fight of the Year award winner in 2009.
Diego Sanchez: Yeah, that was a good one. There are more of those head kicks where that one came from. I’m still a martial artist learning and focusing and working to get better. And that includes all aspects of the sport. I have some tricks up my sleeve and some stuff I want to show the UFC that I still have some stuff up my sleeve. I want to add some Submission of the Night bonuses to my list of bonuses. Submission of the Night is something that I haven’t been, and so that’s something you can be looking for in my upcoming fights is me possibly looking for more of my submission games, opposed to so much ground and pound.
Jeffrey Harris: After you left Greg Jackson’s gym, what is it that brought you back there eventually?
Diego Sanchez: New Mexico is my city. I was Greg’s first fighter ever to make it to the UFC. And he brought me up. I was young, kind of cool wrestler and Greg trained me since then. And we always had a real tight connection, still do. Even when I was gone, he was like, “Oh D, this is your home. You’re always welcome over here.” So it wasn’t like we hated each other or anything. It was just more like me leaving my comfort zone and me seeing – I was just on a mission.
Jeffrey Harris: So there were no hard feelings or burnt bridges over it, right?
Diego Sanchez: No. No hard feelings. No burnt bridges. It was just where I belonged to be honest. It’s where I belong, and I feel really blessed just to have that team at such an elite level of competition.
Jeffrey Harris: In your title fight with BJ Penn, your first fight for a UFC title, do you have any regrets about things you didn’t do or should have done for that fight?
Diego Sanchez: Yeah, I do. There’s always going to be regrets unless you do everything perfect. And I don’t think people – there are some exceptions out there – but I was young, skilled, and I had made some mistakes. But yeah, I think probably some of the biggest mistakes of the training camp were just not putting enough time in the boxing time. And that might’ve been because I was a little concerned of BJ’s BJJ because he had just really dominantly beat Kenny Florian before that. And his BJJ looks really, really on point. So I trained my jiu-jitsu really like crazy. And the game plan was to beat him with the kicks. That fight, it just didn’t work out. My head wasn’t at where it needed to be. And I got caught with a really hard shot. That fight could’ve gone differently had I not been cracked so hard so early in the fight. I took a lot of damage early in the fight. And that’s the closest I’ve ever been to being knocked out in my whole life. I don’t remember getting dropped. I just thought I had slipped. And I don’t even remember that I had got hit that hard. It’s just one of those. It’s part of the sport. And actually I feel that I’m very blessed to be one of the guys that has not been submitted or knocked out in the sport. I like to credit myself to being one of the tougher guys out there because almost everybody in the sport has been knocked out or submitted.
Jeffrey Harris: How tough were the last two layoffs, having to wait a year in-between fights twice, and how are you feeling right now health wise?
Diego Sanchez: I’m finally making my way back to where I need to be. It’s been a battle. Going through a shoulder surgery, I don’t know if it will ever be 100%, but I’m able to train good. And I’m getting stronger and stronger. I’m making it where I need to be. I feel like that’s my issue is just being healthy. It was like crazy because it just hit me all of the sudden out of nowhere. All of the sudden I had all these injuries, and it just hit me one after another after another. It was something I never really had to deal with, but all in all it was really good because it forced me to rest, number one. And I never really rested very much in my career. And so it forced me to rest. And number two, it forced me to think of the future, and it gave me a realization that I can’t fight forever. And I think that made me stronger and made me a better fighter because I have a newfound appreciation for the sport and a newfound appreciation for everything about it. I love every aspect of training. I love getting in that cage, and when that door locks, that’s home. I know I’m just such a natural warrior when I get in that cage. And I appreciate it, and I love it. I take it for what it is. I don’t take it for granted anymore. I’ve taken it for granted in the past. From here on out, in the rest of my career, I’m going to make the most of every opportunity I get to get back in that cage. It’s going to be good. I’m going to bounce back from – from the last fight with Takanori Gomi, which is not my best performance, but I got the W. That performance was – I had given so many good performances that when you get so many Fight of the Night performance, people get used to level of you showing yourself at that level of excitement and just craziness and that whole edge of your seat action. People get used ot that. And if you’re going to show anything that’s anything less than that, it doesn’t mean it was a bad performance, it just means it wasn’t the typical, great performance. That’s the way I was in my last fight. And to be honest, I knew I had round one, and I knew I had round two. I was fighting a knockout puncher that likes to counter. I watched a lot of his film. Most of his knockouts came off the counter. So I fought a different fight. I fought a more technical, martial art aspect of a fight where I countered the counter. I didn’t take damage. And I came out of the fight unscathed, and I got the W. And I did what I had to do. And I got the win for my family. I couldn’t go two losses in a row after all the hardships that I had been through in the past two years. I had to get the W for my family. Now that I got the W for my family, I’m back on a win streak. I’m telling you this next fight is going to be great. I just trust in god that the lord is going to give me a good opponent, a good fight, and I’m going to leave it all in the cage. And I’m going to make my run for the belt.
Jeffrey Harris: Of some of the hardships you have gone through in years past, I read that a guy you thought was your friend took away all your life’s savings. Is that true?
Diego Sanchez: Yeah. It was a sad story. I got scammed, yeah. But, I was the idiot that was partying and partying like a rock star. I don’t blame anybody but myself for that because I was making foolish decisions and I let someone get into my circle that shouldn’t have been in there. And many people warned me about this guy. Many people warned me. My mom warned me about this guy. Lots of people warned me about this guy, and I didn’t listen. And I paid for it man. I paid $150,000 for it.
Jeffrey Harris: Did they ever find this guy and bring him to justice?
Diego Sanchez: No they didn’t. It was just one of things, a scam artist. He got away with it with me. I don’t know why. I had a meeting with the FBI. I tried to press charges, but it’s just one of those things, a grey area with the law. People get away with that stuff. People get away with identity theft. That’s why you have to be careful and be smart with your judgment and the people that you bring around yourself. It’s one of those things. I had to learn. That was one of the biggest lessons in my life was learning to forgive because this is someone that like – you want to kill someone or whatever. Someone steals that much money from you, you want to kill someone like that. But in all reality, you have to learn to just forgive like the Bible says. Forgive your enemies and move forward. And that’s what I had to do. And I got through that, and now I’m blessed. I have a good family. I’m out of that lifestyle. It may have cost me $150,000, but it changed my life. It set me in a good direction all in all.
Jeffrey Harris: How great out of an influence is it now to have settled down to have a family now and have that love and support around you?
Diego Sanchez: It’s the best thing in the world when a man finds a good woman and starts a family. That’s what it’s all about. Now I’m fighting not for my own selfish desires, but I’m fighting for my family. It’s a lot different. I hope to win that title for my family. That’s my dream. I’m going to keep listening to it. I’m never going to give up. I’m going to fight as long and as hard as I can. As long as I can get my body healthy – and I am. I’m getting there. I’m doing some alternative therapies where they drill into your bone and they pull bone marrow. And they pull it out and they mix it with your blood. They make this stem cell therapy, and they get it and they inject it into the injury sites of the joints. So I’m really making some good strides. I believe that god is going to restore me back to 100%, a lot like he is with Vitor Belfort and his career. I hope to make a good, strong run at the end and leave my mark and my legacy in the sport of mixed martial arts.
Jeffrey Harris: You’ve been through some tremendous, big time wars with the UFC with the likes of Clay Guida, Martin Kampmann, Karo Parisyan, and Nick Diaz. Some classic fights. Does any stick out in your memory as being really memorable or a favorite to you?
Diego Sanchez: They were all memorable to me. They all have their special place for me. Fighting Nick Diaz, that was a very big moment. Fighting Karo Parisyan, I had my whole family there. It was such a great feeling having like my *whole* family there. When I fought Paulo Thiago in California, it was such a strong Latino presence because Cain Velasquez was fighting for the belt. And it felt like I was fighting like in the gladiator days when I picked him up and slammed him. Then again, when I fought Kampmann, I switched a switch in my head. I don’t even know what happened. I got in street fight mode. And nothing could hurt me, and I was just going forward. I kind of snapped, and I didn’t even know I could do that. So that is a moment I will never forget. They’ve all been good moments. I wish I could’ve fought that fight with Matt Hughes, unfortunately I broke my hand. That’ll always be a sour spot for me in my career. Like, “Oh, I wish I could’ve had that fight because I was so ready for it.” It just wasn’t part of god’s plan. So I have to let that go.
Jeffrey Harris: Are there any sponsors or people you’d like to thank or give a shout out to?
Diego Sanchez: I would like to thank Hooters of America and Hayabusa Fightware.
Thank you to Diego Sanchez for taking his time to speak with us. UFC 164 is set to go down August 31 at the BMO Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.