When The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1 Middleweight winner, Diego Sanchez, steps into the Octagon at UFC on FUEL TV 8 this weekend (Sat., March 2, 2013) in Saitama, Japan, a mixed martial arts (MMA) dream 11 years in the making will finally be realized.
Indeed, the 28-fight veteran admitted that competing in "The Land of the Rising Sun" has always been on his professional bucket list since his career began in 2002. In fact, even before appeared on TUF for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Sanchez dreamed about stepping inside the Pride FC ring, the Japan-based fight promotion that ruled the sport with an iron fist in Asia.
However, as time passed -- and Pride FC was swallowed whole by Zuffa -- Sanchez mentally came to grips that it was probably never going to happen.
He was wrong.
More than one decade later, "The Dream" will accomplish his long-time goal. And he'll do it against one of Japan's most beloved MMA sons, Takanori Gomi, making it that much sweeter.
Sanchez talked about his long journey to Japan the recent UFC on FUEL TV 8 press conference (watch it here):
"Coming to Japan was always a great goal and a dream of mine growing up, fighting through King of the Cage. Even before I was in the UFC and before 'The Ultimate Fighter,' I always had a dream of having a fight where fighting was most prominent in PRIDE. It was something that I always dreamed of doing and it was like, my career kept going and going and going and I'm like, ‘I guess I'm never going to make it out there.' So, when I decided to make the move back to 155 pounds, I looked at the opponents and I figured, you know, what's a better opportunity than to come out here to Japan, live one of my dreams and fight one of the greatest fighters to come out of Japan in his own hometown. That's a perfect situation for war and a great battle and that's what I live for and that's what I came out here to do is to give the fans and the company and everybody a great showing and a great performance."
Saturday's main card bout against Gomi will also signal Sanchez's return to the Lightweight division. His last bout at 155 pounds was a losing effort against then division champion B.J. Penn three years ago.
It will also mark his Octagon return after a year-long absence since he came up short against Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FUEL TV 1 in Feb. 2012, a "Fight of the Night" performance in the Welterweight division.
The not-so familiar weight cut, as well the extended layoff, could prove to be difficult obstacles as Sanchez looks to get back to the win column. In addition, he will have to get past a red-hot "Fireball Kid," who is currently riding a two-fight win streak with wins over Eiji Mitsuoka and Mac Danzig.
But, that's just the kind of stuff from which dreams are made.