Before his fight against Myles Jury at UFC 170, Diego Sanchez was raring to go out and get back in the win column after losing a three-round "Fight of the Night" war against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166. That is until, of course, he suffered the worse case scenario of eating some risky food: food poisoning, which left him zapped of energy on fight night.
The result was a unanimous decision defeat, his second in a row after the loss to Melendez in Houston.
"I went to Dallas and made the most jackass move of my career," Sanchez said recently as a guest on Darce Side Radio. "Maybe not the most jackass, but definitely up there in the top five. I was very disappointed because realistically I was really ready for the fight. I was very prepared and really ready to have a good showing and I got sick and it didn't go my way."
The veteran of 20 UFC fights and and seven "Fight of the Night" awards wanted to get "back in ASAP" and he wanted badly to show the world the fight vs. Jury "was a fluke."
Then a little over a week later, Sanchez found out the UFC was going to host a card at Tingley Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his hometown. Something he has waited for his whole career.
"I was like 'oh my God,'" Said Sanchez, who last fought in Albuquerque at King of the Cage 35 almost 10 years ago. "First thing I did was call Joe Silva. I told Joe Silva 'look Joe, this is my dream. I have to be on this card. I will fight anybody on the roster. I will fight at 155. I will fight at 185. I will fight at 145, 170, it doesn't matter. Please put me on this card, please Joe.'"
"He said 'you are on medical suspension. I'll start looking for an opponent. I know you. I know you are a fast healer. Go and make sure you get cleared and once you get cleared, we will see about getting you on the card.'"
"A couple of weeks went by and I got cleared. He was setting up the fights and I was trying to get the Gray Maynard fight. He was coming off some losses too, so I though that would be a good one. He didn't want the fight. There were some other fights I was asking for. No one would take the fight. Then they called me up and said 'What do you think? Ross Pearson, co-main event.' I said 'I love you Joe. Thank you so much. I will not let you down. I will not let you down.'"
Sanchez, 32, had already begun training when he got the call to face Pearson in the co-main at UFC Fight Night 42. He has recently changed his strength and conditioning coach and said the full camp he put in with coach Mike Winkeljohn was "awesome."
Never one to shy away from a slug fest, Sanchez said he will take Pearson down "if it presents itself" but he will be looking to "strike" with the 15-6-1 NC Pearson. He revealed he has put a huge emphasis on improving his striking saying, "I'm learning to be a mixed martial artist with a professional level of kickboxing stand up. That's where you have to be. If you don't have professional kickboxing level stand up, you are going to get hurt and you are going to get beat."
"I'm coming in there ready to throw hands and if I get an opportunity to take Ross down, I'm going to take him down," Sanchez continued. "All I got to say to the fans is you've got a good fight on your hands. It's going to look a lot like Erick Silva and Matt Brown. I'm going to put pressure. I'm going to take the fight to him and I hope he plans on taking the fight to me also."
If the fight looks anything like Silva vs. Brown, that would mean it's a one-sided route. It would also most likely mean it's yet another "Fight of the Night" award for Sanchez and the official return of "The Nightmare" will be a success.
Sanchez, went by his old moniker until he was becoming a "nightmare outside of the cage," he said. After moving out to San Diego and falling victim to fame and money, Sanchez returned to New Mexico and became "The Dream" to signify a fresh start and get his career back on track.
But now that he is fighting on a UFC card in his back yard and the fans have been "asking, pleading and begging for" it, Sanchez is returning to "The Nightmare," and he explains why the time is right and what the nickname has always stood for.
"What 'The Nightmare' started as was this guy who had so much conditioning that when you fight him he doesn't go away, he doesn't get out of your face," Sanchez explained. "He's just going to keep putting pressure on you. You hit him with your worse shot and he doesn't go. It's that bad dream. Where I got the idea for "The Nightmare" it's that bad dream. Anybody that is a fighter has had that dream. You have that dream where you are fighting somebody and you can't fight hard. You just can't kick. You don't have that strength. You are just tired. The other guy just has more energy than you."
"That's the nightmare and that's what I'm going to bring to the fight because 'The Nightmare' started in Albuquerque. That's where my fight career started. It's the high-altitude conditioning that I bring to the cage. It's my energy. It's my mentality. That's what 'The Nightmare' is and it's inside the cage. Not outside the cage. It's inside the cage. I'm bringing 'The Nightmare' back for this fight. This is my hometown fight. Albuquerque is getting 'The Nightmare.'"
Sanchez was working at UPS when he joined the renowned Jackson's Gym to embark on his fighting career. He shares the distinction with Forrest Griffin, as one of the first-ever winners on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), and on Saturday night (June 7), the 12-year MMA veteran will be inside the Octagon inside the city where everything started for him.
Asked if he reflects back on his career now that he has 20 fights in the UFC under his belt and 31 overall, Sanchez said, "I do. I do all the time." The fan favorite admits it's usually when he is asked by fans what his favorite fight of his career is? Or what his best fight is? That makes him "look back" on all the battles and memories and "try to give them an answer."
"I've had so many amazing fights that I don't have a real true favorite," he admits. "I have favorite moments. I can't really say that I have a favorite fight, but I think if there is going to be one, if there is going to be a favorite fight in my career it's probably going to be this one on Saturday night. This is going to be the last time I get a fight in front of my 160 family members, my hometown... It's just a dream come true. It's something that I've always dreamed about."
Sanchez said he is "injury free" and his weight cut has been "perfect" leading up to Saturday's fight. He's days away from his next battle and he's "chillin," he said, as he conducted this interview via phone call while sitting in his hot tub in his back yard. The veteran fighter said he "sees all these guys" that are "working their asses off" and "on the treadmill running off the weight" only days out from a fight. That was him once, working up to the last possible minute, but he said "I've already made all those mistakes in my career."
"I'm ready," he said. "I'm letting my body heal up. I'm letting my muscles recover. I'm letting my energy build up and when it comes time time I'm going to unleash that energy in the cage and it's going to be brilliant. It's going to be a brilliant performance on my part on Saturday night. Ross Pearson is a great fighter. I think he is a really good fighter, but I feel that I'm on another level. That's what's going to happen in the fight. I'm going to put pressure on him and when he figures that out, it's going to be 'The Nightmare.' He's getting 'The Nightmare.' That's all there is to it."
While fans love his style of fighting, many experts have been outspoken about Sanchez and the amount of damage he has taken in his various wars and moments of "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots" in the Octagon, but he says that is a misnomer.
"This has been a topic of debate recently in my career and I'll tell people how it is," Said Sanchez, who admitted he has a doctor he sees in Dallas for brain testing. "Look, I've had a great career. I've fought a lot of fights, but if you really truly look at it -- if you look at the first 20 fights of my career -- they are all on the ground. They are all with me pounding people on the ground. I wasn't taking damage in the first 20 fights of my career. Then I started to learn and work my striking and still up until that point no one was really able to put it on me until the BJ Penn fight."
Penn did just that, splitting Sanchez's forehead open with a kick in the final round of the fight and the title contest was waved off due to the laceration. Sanchez cites Martin Kampmann and Melendez as the other fights where he has taken significant damage.
"People are telling me I took a lot of damage, but you know what? I'm not like these professional boxers I've fought three fights where I've taken some hits. We are looking at five, eight, 11 rounds. That's 11 rounds of my career where I've taken some punches. The way I look at it, I feel good. I'm healthy. I'm happy and I've never been knocked out. I've never had any of those ridiculous knockouts. Look at Michael Bisping with Dan Henderson knocking him into oblivion. Vitor Belfort kicking his head into left field. Nogueria getting head kicked by Cro Cop. I've never had any of that type of serious trauma. The closest is when I walked into a right hand by BJ Penn. I came right into it and I recovered and that's about it."
The fighter who has competed in three weight classes has only lost by technical knockout once in his seven professional losses and says that's "not the damage he is concerned about." It's the wear and tear on his body from years of training and competing that concerns him the most. He said he's "learning" more as he gets older.
"I'm healthy. I'm 100 percent," he said. "I'm going to continue to go forward with blood testing and brain testing and use technology to my advantage to make sure I'm alright and if the time comes and it's time for me to step out of the Octagon, then I'll be ready to step out of the Octagon."
But that won't be anytime in the near future.
"No, no the thing is, what it comes down to is I'm a true fighter Michael," he said with pride. "I love it. I'm a fighter who fights because I love it. I had 2011 and 2012 to do a lot of thinking. I broke my hand in 2011. I had shoulder surgery in 2012. Both knees and both shoulders injured. I had to sit on the couch. I had to give it some thought. I talk to God a lot and I know that I won't be able to fight forever."
"So right now I am enjoying it. I love it. I embrace it. I'm going to go with it as long as I can. As long as my body holds up I'm going to be in there doing what I do. When the time comes, the time will come and I will have to step away. My heroes are the Randy Coutures, the Cung Les, the Dan Hendersons, the Chuck Liddells, the Anderson Silvas. The fighters who peak in their later thirties, in their mid to later thirties."
For more on Sanchez vs. Pearson including live results click here.