Dan Hardy hasn’t fought inside the Octagon since being diagnosed with the heart condition Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome in 2012, but I remember reading an interview a few years ago when Dan was hoping to make his comeback and fancied Diego as a potential foe. I thought his comments were pretty pertinent given the nature of Diego’s loss on Saturday night.
Hardy said: “Diego’s always kind of irritated me, I like Diego, I respect him and I forgive him for his strangeness, but in my opinion he’s kind of the problem with mixed martial arts. He started off as a really good fighter and he’s just slowly gotten worse throughout his career. That is the opposite of how martial artists should develop.
“He’s discarded technique, he’s discarded logic and intelligence and he’s gone with hard-headedness and blocking punches with his face. That is not a good example for future mixed martial artists. I think that I could really expose him and hopefully teach him something about martial arts and where he’s gone wrong.”
For me, Dan has hit the nail directly on the head. The Diego Sanchez we see these days tends to stand square, flat footed and angry in the middle of the Octagon swinging for the fences, and like Dan says, “blocks punches with his face”. Unfortunately, it’s now a given that at some point during a fight Diego will sport a ghastly cut somewhere on his face with a river of blood flowing from it. Some fans may find this entertaining, but Diego simply can’t allow his head to absorb such trauma over and over again. The elbow Matt Brown delivered to stop the fight on Saturday night was thunderously devastating and folded Diego like an accordion. These moments are becoming too frequent and harder to watch.
The harsh reality is that Diego’s skill level hasn’t progressed at the same pace as the sport and the ‘modern’ MMA athlete stands head and shoulders above him in terms of refinement of technique. Diego has now lost 7 of his last 11 fights and his 3 most recent losses have all came inside the first round via highlight reel TKO or KOs.
There is no denying that Diego Sanchez is a popular man. He is a bonafide warrior who is always one of the most anticipated fighters on a UFC card; but not because fans are expecting a sublimely executed submission, a wrestling master class or a sweet KO, it’s because they expect theatre. Diego’s super intense stare down at the weigh-ins is top class and the fans know it’s usually followed up by an often violent and bloody war. A good example is Diego’s fight with Gilbert Melendez back in 2013; this fight goes down in my top 3 UFC fights of all time but if you watch it back again only this time with your martial arts purist glasses on you will appreciate that there was very little skill and technique on show, instead it was simply an old school bloody slug fest.
The truth is, Diego Sanchez is merely a good fighter that relies more on unbelievable durability than unbelievable ability to get through a fight, and I think that’s the point Dan was trying to make.
For me, Diego has unfortunately slipped into the same trap that stifled Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes careers; a ground and pound wizard that did not or could not evolve at the same rate as their peers and for that reason, along with the damage he has taken in the past few years, I really hope Diego hangs up his gloves. Shame, because I am his biggest fan and would have loved to see him retire having won a belt. At the very least, I sincerely hope to see Diego Sanchez inducted into the UFC hall of fame one day for his services to the sport.