Yesterday I read one of MMA’s pioneering fighters and trainers evince his frustration about our beloved sport, and its fans.
It was… a little sad.
“Those are the fans,” he wrote. “No loyalty. The most common quote used by MMA fans is, ‘he’s overrated,’ usually used after a world champion dominates for years then finally loses.”
It’s also true. Of course there wouldn’t be a sport without the fans. Sometimes, it seems it wouldn’t be MMA without this certain type of fan. Anyone who has spent any time perusing MMA forums knows what’s being talked about here.
Recently, we’ve heard them call for the retirement of Diego “The Dream” Sanchez, who will return to the Octagon on Saturday against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166.
Sanchez never quite made it to world champion status, but he’s been a contender. Still… it’s a familiar refrain…
Have a bad night in a fight? Maybe it’s time to quit.
Lose two in a row? Are you kidding?? Hang ‘em up.
I understand Sanchez just fought a listless fight with Takanori Gomi in his return to the lightweight division — a about which many observers thought Sanchez was unjustly awarded a decision victory. Eh, too much is probably being made of that. Everyone has off nights. (What’s more troublesome is that he failed to make weight that night, and forfeited 20% of his purse.)
Before that, Sanchez suffered a competitive decision loss to Jake Ellenberger at welterweight, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of either.
Sanchez has got a huge task before him Saturday. Then again, who wouldn’t? His opponent, Gilbert Melendez, is probably among the top three in the world at lightweight, so that’s nothing to be ashamed of either.
What, exactly, should he retire from?
(I’ll concede he could retire his Twitter account and I wouldn’t miss it. Diego Sanchez has the most ridiculous social media “beefs” in MMA history — and that’s saying something — but that’s for another time.)
Maybe it’s hard for fans to remember what could become of Diego Sanchez because they’re stuck on the past. In their defense, while Sanchez is only 31 years old, he’s been at it a while now.
Sanchez actually began his career eleven years (and three weight classes) ago. Then known as Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez, the New Mexico-born grappler won his first 17 MMA bouts — not including his victories over Alex Karalexis, Josh Rafferty and Josh Koscheck on the first season of Ultimate Fighter. Included on that ledger are victories in classic matches with Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz. Sanchez hit takedown after takedown for ground-and-pound clinics in these bouts — high-energy bouts which would have been easy picks for “Fight of the Night” honors, had it existed at the time. Sanchez acquitted himself well in standup from time to time as well, as in the TUF 1 bout with Josh Koscheck.
He’s suffered a few losses since that great start, mostly at welter. In fact, his only lightweight loss was to the greatest lightweight of all time, BJ Penn — also the only man to finish Sanchez in his career. Once the UFC began awarding “Fight of the Night” honors, he received the award five times. His victory over Clay Guida in 2009 was regarded “Fight of the Year” by many media outlets.
Sure, the recent return to lightweight was tougher than expected. It’s reasonable Sanchez will enter the cage a +400 underdog against Gilbert Melendez.
It’s also true that he’s rebounded before. Why not again?
He’s always been seen as an “X-Factor” at lightweight. Like all the smack talk, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
At 31, there’s still time for Sanchez to earn some solid wins, climb the ranks, and become a true contender. Let’s give him a little time, and a little credit.