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Sanchez drops to lightweight, takes on Stevenson

Story & photo by Chris Cozzone

Dropping 30 pounds since the holidays and training on a meager 1,100 calories a day, Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez will take on former title challenger Joe “Daddy” Stevenson in the headlined bout of UFC 95, Saturday night at the O2 Arena in London, England.

The native Albuquerque fighter, now living and training “like a nomad,” from California to Nevada, where he prepared for next week’s fight, will be Sanchez’s debut as a lightweight.

Though the weight hasn’t been easy, says Sanchez, the move is a necessary one.

“I was outsized in the 170-pound division,” he says. “Fighting guys like Jon Fitch, I found myself outweighed 17, 18 pounds the night of a fight.

“I thought, if I don’t drop to lightweight now, it’s only going to get tougher, when I get into my 30s. If I do it, I better do it now.”

Sanchez, 19-2, has fought at 170 since winning his class on The Ultimate Fighter, Season One. Five straight wins followed, but in 2007, the “Nightmare’s” dream came to a screeching halt when he lost both his bouts that year, to former rival Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Sanchez’s back-to-back losses were followed with back-to-back wins in 2008, over David Bielkheden and Luigi Fioravanti.

“I don’t see myself staying at lightweight forever,” says Sanchez. “But I’d like to go down and try to win a title at this weight, if that’s possible.

“My goal is to win a title at lightweight, then go back up to welterweight, and do it there. That’s my goal—B.J. Penn at lightweight, and then move back up.”

Next week’s opponent, Stevenson, has already climbed the ladder to Penn—but fell, losing by second round submission to Penn last January. Since Penn, Stevenson has defeated Gleison Tibau, last July, but then faltered against Kenny Florian in his last bout, losing by second round submission.

“I’m not looking past Joe Stevenson,” says Sanchez. “He’s an amazing fighter … but I’d rather punch a guy in the face I don’t like.”

To make 155, Sanchez has been training at 7,000-feet elevation since January at Camp Tahoe, Nevada.

“I’ve never really had to cut weight before,” says Sanchez. “But this has been a challenge. I’ve cut down to 1,100 calories a day, with real, small, precise meals. High protein—a lot of lean fish, protein shakes.

“I’m trying to get rid of those final pounds. It’s tough, but nothing’s easy. Cutting carbs has effected training a little bit, but, in general, I feel pretty good. I’m still trying to find out what works best for me.

“But training has been great. In the past, I’ve overthought everything, overanalyzed. The bottom line is, when you step in the cage, it’s the work you put in—then, the fight’s easy.”


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