Diego Sanchez has already cemented a memorable legacy from his mixed martial arts career but that doesn’t mean that he’s finished adding accolades to his resume.
At 41, the Ultimate Fighter season 1 winner and UFC Hall of Famer just recently inked a deal to join the roster at BKFC where he will make his bare-knuckle debut on Feb. 17 against former boxing champion Austin Trout. Sanchez claims that Sanchez made the decision not out of necessity, but because he wanted to do something different after spending the bulk of 2022 training for his boxing match with Dan Hardy.
“First and foremost, it’s new and it’s different,” Sanchez told MMA Fighting. “I like new and I like different. Because it’s still combat sports, it adds an additional level to my legacy. It goes to show that I wasn’t just a MMA [fighter].
“The show [with Dan Hardy] fell through the first time, they rescheduled and it actually fell through in total. I just trained all year and the boxing promotion was cool. They paid me to do the camp. I got paid to do the camp and start training all year. We’re now ready for the BKFC fight. It’s about damn time.”
Although Sanchez says he is fighting for his own interests because that’s what it feels like, there’s still a desire to stand out with his move to bare-knuckle combat.
” It’s difficult for me to take the criticisms that I have received throughout 17 years of my UFC Hall of Fame career. Sanchez said that it’s been hard to hear the criticisms that I don’t know how I stand, or that I didn’t strike Joe Riggs when I knocked him out. “I had great fights with Joe Stevenson, I stood up with Nick Diaz. I went with B.J. Penn. These hands were slung with all my might.
“So I don’t know why people still don’t credit me for being a technical fighter. Perhaps it’s because I was bullfighter at the start of my professional career. I didn’t know how to counter fight. I didn’t know how to measure the distances. I didn’t know how use my vision to see shots coming at me. Through some knocks on the head and some knees, I learned .”
The bigger issue surrounding Sanchez was his striking abilities, but his health. He had taken a lot of punishment during his last fights at the UFC.
Of course it’s been well documented that the 44-fight veteran also had a tumultuous relationship with his now former coach Joshua Fabia, which played at least some small part in his release from the promotion. Sanchez bounced back from that with a three-round battle against fellow UFC veteran Kevin Lee at Eagle FC 46 this past March where he looked rejuvenated despite ultimately losing a unanimous decision.
Now that Sanchez is approaching his first ever bare-knuckle bout, he promises that he feels much more at ease, especially since he can now put all his focus back on training, which is when he performs his best.
“This is the life that I’ve known for the past 20 years,” Sanchez said. Training is where I feel the most happy. This is in between fights, when I felt a bit down and flirting with alcoholism.
“Now that I’m 40, it’s like the Tim McGraw song, I’m on the next 40 years. I’m about love for family, time, energy and making the most of my life these next 40 years.”
While Sanchez definitely has a lot of miles on the tires, his toughness, heart and durability have never been questioned and he’s not afraid to lean on that during his biggest fights.
Sanchez says his best days don’t lie behind, but he is also aware of the dangers for people who stay too long.
” I was among the few fighters who went out with my shield,” Sanchez stated. “I went out on my shield in the UFC. Many of these legends, like Chuck [Liddell] or Frankie Edgar, are going out on stretchers. If they’re not going out on stretchers, they’re going out with brain damage and knockout losses and just a loss of confidence while stepping out of the UFC limelight. That was not something I wanted to do
In many ways, Sanchez might actually feel better suited for the second stage of his career as he turns his attention towards bare-knuckle fighting and even the potential for a boxing match in the future. He’s not putting his body through a hellacious training camp like he would for MMA and stylistically, Sanchez believes he’s been built for these kinds of fights.
“With the strengths that I have with the state championship wrestling background, the experience of fighting with open hand fingers my entire career and just being able to be strong in the clinch,” Sanchez said. I know this space. That area is mine. This is where I am most at my best. My uppercut was the best punch I have ever thrown in MMA. My right uppercut. My lead right uppercut. I caused a lot damage to [Clay] Guida. I also did damage to Karo Parisyan. I was able to fight a lot with this punch, and had great success.
“Bare-knuckle is even more enjoyable because the men don’t run so fast from you. Some of the guys were faster than me and I had to play the chase the rabbit game a lot in the UFC. We’re now in bare-knuckle, where you can get docked for not throwing down. You get docked points. You must also toe the line. Three feet apart, you start. You are only one meter from each other and you can rush the vato
With a fight booked for February 17, Sanchez doesn’t plan on looking beyond that date. However, he plans to keep busy in 2023 and has the potential to fight across bare-knuckle boxing, MMA, or even a return to MMA if he gets the chance.
Sanchez says he’s still got a deal in place with Eagle FC, although he hasn’t heard anything from the promotion in recent months. Triad Combat is another option that Sanchez would like to explore. It uses a mix of MMA and boxing rules with three-sided ring fights.
But Sanchez wants a new start. He appreciates the support he has received through all the difficult times.
” Everyone knows that the past three years have been difficult for me,” Sanchez stated. “I went through what was a trial and a tribulation of soul, spirit and mind and I came out on the other side. I came out on the other side stronger, better tougher and more grateful for everything that I have. People I am grateful to have in my lives are more important than ever. It’s easier to understand my network and the people I allow into it.
“I’m living simple, I’m living pure for my family for God and my faith has always been up and down but in this final episode what went down with Joshua Fabia on the spiritual aspects and dimensions, I was saved by my lord and savior Jesus Christ and I know my purpose now. My purpose is not being defeated. I’m living for it and that’s why I look good and I feel good.”