Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight grapplers Diego Sanchez and Marcin Held will collide this Saturday (Nov. 5, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 98 inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico.
Despite having few strong performances in the last five or so years, Sanchez has avoided consecutive losses during his skid down the ranks. That said, the veteran was knocked out for the first time in his last appearance, making it unclear what his future holds. On the other hand, Held had been one of Bellator’s top Lightweight talents for a few years. Still just 24 years old, Held managed to leave the organization, and now will make his debut opposite a solid test of his abilities.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Jim Miller (UFC 196), Takenori Gomi (UFC on Fuel TV 8), Ross Pearson (UFC Fight Night 42)
Key Losses: Joe Lauzon (UFC 200), Gilbert Melendez (UFC 166), Myles Jury (UFC 171)
Keys to Victory: Sanchez has slowed down quite a bit over the years, and nowadays he's something of a brawler and wrestler. Many of his recent wins were questionable decisions, but he did have something of a return to form opposite Jim Miller.
To be hones, Sanchez is not likely to be favored over many Lightweights in 2016. That's not meant to be insulting, but Sanchez has undoubtedly lost a step since the start of his professional career 14 years ago. Luckily, this still isn't an impossible fight to win. Sanchez may not be as powerful with his takedowns or punches, but there's no evidence that his conditioning or jiu-jitsu has suffered. Held is no striker, nor is he a phenomenal top control fighter.
In all likelihood, this will be a grappling match filled with transitions. If Sanchez can get on top and stay there for any amount of time — his long-time specialty — he could upset the newcomer.
Key Wins: Patricky Freire (Bellator 126), Alexander Sarnavskiy (Bellator 136), Dave Jansen (Bellator 155)
Key Losses: Will Brooks (Bellator 145)
Keys to Victory: Held has improved his wrestling and kickboxing over the years, but he's still primarily a grappler. Even more specifically, Held is a leg lock specialist, finishing six of his opponents via footlock of some kind.
In this match, Held needs to make sure he prioritizes position over submission. There's a chance he could finish Sanchez — which would be great for his debut — but he also cannot afford to get sloppy and give away a winnable decision. Basically, Held should be able to get on top and control his opponent. It's fine if he dives on a leg or take some other risk, but Held needs to either gain dominant position and hold for some period of time or do significant damage before he really goes for it. He needs to gain a lead on the judges' scorecard before he gives Sanchez a chance to get back into the fight.
Bottom Line: This is Marcin Held’s introduction to UFC's fan base. Sanchez is far past the point of fighting to break into the top 15 or return to the title mix. He’s fighting because he loves it and wants to keep doing it, but the longtime veteran needs to win to keep receiving fights. A loss here doesn’t end Sanchez’s career, but two straight losses is far from ideal. On the bright side, Held is a pretty highly-regarded fighter. If Sanchez can take him out, it definitely proves that he has something left in the tank.
This is a high stakes bout for Held as well. Sanchez may be a name, but he’s definitely a beatable fighter at this point in his career. If Held wants to be a player in the Lightweight title mix, he cannot afford to slip up here. While a win won’t earn him a spot in the rankings, it sets him up for a fight that does. Held is a dangerous and unique fighter, and there are plenty of interesting challenges for him at 155 pounds, assuming he can make it past Sanchez.
At UFC Fight Night 98, Diego Sanchez and Marcin Held will battle in the co-main event. Which man will leave the Octagon with his hand raised?