Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight veterans Al Iaquinta and Diego Sanchez will collide this Saturday (April 22, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 108 inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
Al Iaquinta last stepped into the Octagon on April 4, 2015, opposite Jorge Masvidal. During Iaquinta’s layoff — an attempt to negotiate a better contract — Masvidal has since switched weight classes, put together a win streak, and is close to contending for a new strap.
Two years is something of a lifetime in mixed martial arts (MMA).
On the other hand, Sanchez has recently gone through something of a career renaissance. It can definitely be argued that Sanchez went four years and seven fights without a definitive victory, but he scored a pair of them in 2016 to show fight fans that “The Nightmare” is still around.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Jorge Masvidal (UFC Fight Night 63), Ross Pearson (UFC Fight Night 55), Joe Lauzon (UFC 183), Piotr Hallmann (UFC Fight Night 30)
Key Losses: Michael Chiesa (TUF 15 Finale), Mitch Clarke (UFC 173)
Keys to Victory: Iaquinta is one of Lightweight’s finest representative of the classic sprawl-and-brawl strategy. In more detail, Iaquinta is a sharp puncher with great counter strikes and a solid collegiate wrestling background that helps keep him standing.
That makes him a disastrous match up for Sanchez.
Sanchez’s general path to victory is to exploit his foe’s wrestling defense or cardio. Iaquinta is above average in both areas. Alternatively, the long-time veteran can attempt to draw out a brawl and capitalize on any weakness to pressure boxing, but Iaquinta thrives in brawls and throws thudding counter shots.
In short, Iaquinta is primed to pick apart Sanchez. If he keeps his feet moving and forces Sanchez to come to him, Iaquinta will find plenty of chances to land his heavy punches.
Key Wins: Marcin Held (UFC Fight Night 98), 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: At this stage in his career, Sanchez’s primary aspect is being a tough bastard who somehow never gets tired. He’s declined athletically, but Sanchez is still a strong wrestler with some power in his hands.
I didn’t mince words about how unfavorable this style match up is for “The Nightmare.” Iaquinta has all the skills proven to trouble Sanchez, and he’s also a similarly tough and conditioned athlete.
There is one silver lining for Sanchez: the combination of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt skills and Iaquinta’s fascinating ability to fall into terrible positions. Sanchez has the toughness necessary to walk through fire and keep pushing for the full 15 minutes, and doing so creates the chance that Iaquinta slips up in some way and lands in a bad spot.
Sanchez needs to encourage this by shooting for takedowns with the intent of jumping onto the back. Even sitting into a foot lock from a takedown could cause the scramble that he needs.
It’s up to the veteran to make something happen.
Bottom Line: It’s a chance for Iaquinta to shake off some rust before returning to top competition.
Since this is a showcase/tune-up fight for Iaquinta, the stakes are fairly obvious. With a win, Iaquinta can hopefully get back into the cage quickly opposite a fellow ranked contender. Prior to leaving, he was on the best win streak of his career, so Iaquinta would surely like to build from that. Meanwhile, a loss would be disastrous and leave Iaquinta without a clear path moving forward.
As for Sanchez, his most recent win was especially surprising, as Marcin Held is a pretty highly regarded prospect. If Sanchez somehow scores a second straight win -- making it three of his last four — over another quality fighter, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to receive a ranked foe next. Alternatively, Sanchez continues the path he’s on in the middle of the division. Sanchez is a long-time veteran who seems to have no intention of retiring or slowing down, and there are always new faces to fight at 155 pounds.
At UFC Fight Night 108, Al Iaquinta and Diego Sanchez will square off in the co-main event. Which man will have his hand raised?