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The Downfall of Diego Sanchez

Diego Sanchez will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting fighters in early Zuffa years of the UFC, his mix of incredible cardio and borderline fool-hardy grit ensure that almost all of his fights have been a spectacle to behold. Of late though, Sanchez is coming off of two hard losses to John Hathaway and BJ Penn, a journeyman quality win in Paulo Thiago, and an extremely questionable victory over Martin Kampmann which exposed more holes in his game than it did return him to form. So what happened to the Diego Sanchez that swarmed all over Nick Diaz and won our hearts on the Ultimate Fighter with his bizarre personality and real world fighting skills? Diego Sanchez struggles with distance, and it has been picked up on and exploited by three of his last four opponents. Is Jake Ellenberger the kind of fighter to do the same? Probably not, but he has more than enough tools to make Sanchez struggle in other ways.

A quick look through Diego Sanchez's successful fights reveals his modus operandi; the man is an animal, constantly moving forward and swarming on opponents with punches until he gets them to the mat where his effective ground and pound and slick Jiu Jitsu can be utilized. One of Diego's best matches was his defeat of Nick Diaz, in which he would throw some big punches then literally dive at the much taller man's legs. Once he got Diaz to the mat Diego was relentless, stacking Diaz up in guard and dropping from his feet back to his knees with huge elbows. While Diaz was never in danger of being stopped, it is certainly the most ineffectual we have seen his guard look.

However against BJ Penn, Diego Sanchez shot 27 takedowns, succeeded in none, and was pounded on the feet constantly. Now BJ Penn is a marvelous athlete, but to write off his natural abilities as the reason he could do this to Sanchez when other great athletes like Nick Diaz couldn't is just downright moronic. BJ fought the perfect gameplan against Sanchez which from the get go seemed to be about pressure. Throughout the fight BJ Penn backed Diego on to the cage, but instead of leading waited for Diego to charge him. When Diego did charge, BJ would take one or two shuffles back to avoid the first attack, slip the second and counter - and it worked. Every time.

The reason this happened is because Diego relies on swarming opponents to get the takedown, every one of his previous defeated opponents had been distracted by his rushes with his hands and had left their hips exposed for him to shoot on. The thing is that Diego can hit with power, when he's standing still and swinging, but becomes a rigid arm-puncher when he attempts to strike at long distance. Just look at how he pushes his punches at Penn, it's almost Forrest Griffin-esque, and certainly nothing for Penn to worry about. Additionally his straights are slow and predictable - in his fight with BJ, Diego threw the same combination multiple times in every one of the five rounds. BJ continued to either counter it, or move out of the way with ease.


Against Hathaway, who was by no means one of the top dogs of the division on Diego's return to welterweight, Diego was now timid to strike from distance, which meant that he had to try to close the distance for a takedown without his trademark furiosity, and his wrestling just isn't at the level where he can shoot wildly and expect to pick up a takedown. Diego continued to get picked apart by the longer, taller Hathaway on the feet, due to his inability to fight at distance, then eventually fell back on the age old strategy of waiting for the opponent to punch, and then attempting to shoot underneath it. So Hathaway did this:

In his most recent 'win', Sanchez's striking was exposed in a new way. Martin Kampmann is a much taller fighter than Sanchez, and owned a significant reach, so Diego - for some unexplained reason - opted to fight with his lead hand down by his hip for the entire fight. For those of you who haven't read my Southpaw Guide, the reason to keep your lead hand up when you are a southpaw fighting an orthodox fighter is that it neutralizes the opponent's jab completely. A good southpaw striker should never be hit with as many jabs as Diego was by Kampmann. He had some success against the cage by swinging at Kampmann - who has never responded well to pressure - but he took so much punishment to the face in order to get there for a brief moment that it seemed impossible for him to win the fight. Fortunately, the judges in mixed martial arts know so little about striking that this turned out to be the face of a winner:

Once again Diego's takedowns were largely ineffectual, because he cannot close the distance unless the opponent is scared of his punches. Now has Diego simply declined? Or has the game evolved and left him behind? The author would argue for the latter. Make no mistake Diego Sanchez's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is beautiful, and his ability to take the lead in chaotic scrambles seemingly every time is very much a unique point of his abilities, but watching back his fight with Nick Diaz - will anyone be so easy to takedown by leaping in from 5 feet away in todays mma? Nick Diaz's takedown defense has always been fairly suspect, but he has improved in leaps and bounds too, while Diego Sanchez seems to rely on the same strategies he used in his promotional debut almost seven years ago.

Is Diego Sanchez a relic? The young and hungry Jake Ellenberger should be able to give us some indication in a few days time, but he is unlikely to do it the same way. Ellenberger is more likely to simply sprawl on Sanchez and brutalize him in wild exchanges and clinches than he is to draw him to where he is uncomfortable, at range, and counter him coming in as Penn, Hathaway and Kampmann did... but it's not completely unlikely.

Jack Slack now blogs at his brand new website

He can also be found on Twitter @JackSlackMMA

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Hey man

Good article. Sanchez had slipped out of my mind recently. Glad to see a breakdown of where he is at. Do you think Ellenberger is going to put him away?

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by Luke Nelson on Feb 12, 2012 1:36 PM EST via mobile reply actions  

Great breakdown.

My friends and I were talking a couple of years ago about the difference between Kos and Diego and we thought that while Kos was evolving Diego had stopped. Maybe he hit his ceiling? Now Kos has stopped evolving as well. I think Ellenberger is going to crush Diego.

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by dedstrk316 on Feb 12, 2012 5:19 PM EST reply actions  

just cant believe its the same guy

the good looking Sanchez on the main pic and that full bloodied Sanchez … wow- Please tell me , the last gif seems to be Ellenberger is it so or not? I m still new to MMA .. :) i know though that the style of the 2 seems to resemble but i would give this fight for Ellenberger..

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by szanpan on Feb 12, 2012 6:56 PM EST reply actions  

the only question is does Ellenberger KO Sanchez or does this fight last 3 brutal rounds for Sanchez?

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by Ben Bauman on Feb 12, 2012 9:35 PM EST reply actions  

Diego is historically very hard to finish, BJ is the only one to stop him and that took 5 rounds.

That said, Ellenberger stopped Shields in the first (regardless of the circumstances, that’s a huge accomplishment), so it’s possible. But I’d lean more toward a 3 round beating.

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by Chris Hall on Feb 12, 2012 9:55 PM EST up reply actions  

and was stopped because the evil eye of sauron opened up on his head

not because he was dead in the water

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by Cory Braiterman on Feb 12, 2012 11:48 PM EST up reply actions  

Another great breakdown. I’ve been trying to figure out what Diego does wrong with his takedowns but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. In all of his fights since the BJ Penn fight, he ends up in the exact same position – holding one of his opponent’s legs up against the fence. When he does actually grab a leg, it seems like he drives but doesn’t ever turn the corner.

Overall, Diego has looked terrible since returning to welterweight. I know he was going through some major stuff during this time period but his skills have deteriorated.

by Lucas2 on Feb 14, 2012 1:35 AM EST reply actions  

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