Diego Sanchez headlines Saturday night’s “Ultimate Fighter” Finale on Spike TV just a little over four years after becoming the show’s very first winner. Now he takes on Clay “The TUF-Slayer” Guida in a fight that, according to Sanchez, will catapult him into an immediate lightweight title shot. Does that mean the same title shot is on the line for Guida? Not so much, says “The Nightmare.” He also had some interesting things to say about positive thinking, the upcoming B.J. Penn/Kenny Florian title fight, and how he feels about being the UFC’s resident weirdo. All this and more in our exclusive interview.
CagePotato.com: This is your second fight at lightweight. Is the weight cut easier for you this time?
The weight cut’s gone great. It’s been a lot better this time around. I’ve been able to apply the right supplement and nutrition programs. I feel right on point. This week I was at about 171, and that’s right where I want to be. The last ten pounds or so and the last couple days shouldn’t be too tough. Then I’m fight ready.
Is it tough to stick to your diet at this weight class?
It ain’t easy. More than anything it’s portion control. Takes some getting used to, for sure.
If you beat Clay Guida on Saturday, where do you think that puts you in the division?
If I win, I think I’ll deserve a title shot right away. But if he wins – well, he’s not going to win – but even if he did, he wouldn’t be the number one contender. I think they’d make him fight Gray Maynard first.
That’s pretty specific. Why Gray Maynard?
Gray Maynard is kind of the top contender at 155 now. Me, coming down from 170 and beating Joe Stevenson, he’s one of the top guys in the weight class. He had a loss to B.J. [Penn] and a loss to Kenny Florian, but he’s still a top guy and Clay Guida hasn’t beaten those kinds of guys.
Why wouldn’t they also make you fight Gray Maynard, if he’s really the top contender at 155?
Because when it’s all said and done, when it comes down to this business, it’s about money and it’s about what sells. If you know the fight business, and I’m guessing you do since you’re interviewing me, you should know what sells. You go back to my fight with Kenny Florian, where I beat him down in one minute and twenty seconds and it wasn’t even a fight. You think Kenny Florian wants a rematch? I hope he does. I know the fans want to see it, and I know they’ll pay to see it. That’s what it comes down to, buddy.
You think Florian will take the title away from B.J. Penn?
I think he’s hungrier and I think he’s working harder. I’d actually like to see B.J. Penn win, honestly. That’s the guy I would rather fight. I’ve already fought Kenny Florian and beaten him. But if Kenny Florian gets past B.J., then bring it on Kenny Florian. That’s fine. Then he’s earned a rematch and I’ve earned a title shot. It’s great for the fans.
Back to Clay Guida for a moment, he’s been getting a lot of heat from fans for being a “boring” fighter, for taking guys down and holding him there. Are you worried that he’ll try and do the same thing to you and make it a methodical, less exciting fight that way?
I’m not worried about anything he does. He’s just really predictable and kind of robotic. Whatever he tries to do I have an answer for, even if it’s trying to lay on me. I’ll be dropping elbows on his head, working triangles, attacking him constantly, and getting back to my feet. Wherever it goes I’m ready to fight hard and finish the fight.
What have you seen from him that you think is a real strong point in his game?
He’s good with combinations into the takedown, but the thing about that is, those combinations are also really predictable. He throws this 1-2 combination before he shoots, and depending on the range that will be a great chance for me to throw my knee.
It’s funny that you say he’s predictable and robotic. He said almost the exact same thing about you recently.
I’m continuously evolving. One fight to the next, I’m a different Diego Sanchez. You watch the fight where I knocked out Joe Riggs, then when I fought Karo Parisyan, or any of my fights, against Luigi Fioravanti or Jon Fitch. Those are all different versions of me. I evolve. I change. I continue to improve and get better in the weak points in my game. That’s the difference between me and Clay Guida.
You watch him, and it’s the same Clay Guida that’s been in the cage for three or four years. His fights when he first came to the UFC are the same as his fights now. That’s what happens when you train with the same people and the same coach and you don’t continue to get better and keep learning. That’s what I’ve done. I keep learning. I’ve been with five different striking coaches in the last two years. I keep an open mind in my training and I’m always looking for new avenues.
When you fought Joe Stevenson and you were walking down to the Octagon, you kept shouting “Yes!” every few feet. What was that about?
That’s a little Tony Robbins, mental conditioning, getting in the zone. That’s just me getting my mind ready to go so there’s not a thought in my mind other than me taking out my opponent. That’s what I was doing. I went in there and unfortunately I hurt my right hand in the first round, but I was still able to execute my strikes effectively and Joe wasn’t able to hurt me once in the fight, and I was able to attack and hurt him several times. I could have taken it to the ground, but that’s not what I wanted to show the fans. I’m still trying to show that I can strike, and this fight with Clay Guida I’m going to show it again.
So you go into fights with specific things that you want to show fans and prove to people?
My mindset is always to take what God gives me. If he gives me an opportunity for a takedown, yeah, I’ll take it. If he gives me a submission, I’ll take that. That’s always been my gameplan.
You’re known as one of the weirder, quirkier characters in MMA. Does it bother you for people to think you’re strange?
[laughs] Come on, does it bother me? No way. I’m me. I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks.
Do you think you’re strange?
I’ve always been myself. From the time I was on the show to now, I’m an open-minded individual. That’s why people look at me like that. It’s because unfortunately, we live in a world of close-minded individuals who aren’t open to the real possibilities of reality. Me, I keep my faith in Jesus Christ and that’s my stronghold, but this is a big universe we live in and there are limitless possibilities. I keep an open mindset and I bring my confidence and experience into the ring with me and that’s what you see when you watch me. That’s why now I’m ready for my title shot.