Perennial lightweight title contender Joe Stevenson is will look to extend lightweight newcomer Diego Sanchez a rude welcome when the two collide this Saturday at UFC 95.
“He better hope that everything goes right, because with the weight cut, with the traveling for the first time, and fighting someone like me for the first time, at 155 it’s not easy,” Stevenson said.
The Ultimate Fighter 2 champion is the poster boy for elite gatekeeper status in the UFC’s lightweight division. Stevenson has defeated highly thought of up-and-comers Gleison Tibau, Kurt Pelligrino and Melvin Guillard while dropping fights to the divisions top two contenders, BJ Penn and Kenny Florian. He’ll look to shed his gatekeeper status with a win over the original Ultimate Fighter champion.
“If he thinks I’m taking him lightly…, that’s 100 percent wrong,” said Stevenson. I give Diego a lot of credit. He’s a well-accomplished, tough, well-rounded fighter. If he wants to think that there’s a second that I’m not thinking about beating him up, he’s mistaken,” he said.
Sanchez, who knocked out Kenny Florian to take the UFC’s first season of The Ultimate Fighter, is making his first foray into the promotions lightweight division after spending the majority of his career at welterweight.
“He better hope that everything goes right, because with the weight cut, with the travelling for the first time, and fighting someone like me for the first time, at 155… it’s not easy,” Stevenson explained.
Sanchez, who has wrestled in the past at lower weights believes he’s finally in the weight class that he’s most suited for and says he’ll be in the best shape of his career
“I’m reborn at 155, I’ll just give it all that I’ve got,” Sanchez stated. “I fought at 185 (pounds), 170, but I’ve always belonged at 155. What people don’t understand is yeah sometimes people cut weight and they don’t recover because they’re not in amazing phenomenal shape. I’m gonna be in amazing phenomenal shape… I’m gonna come into the ring stronger than ever before.”
Sanchez will need to come in stronger than he ever has before to face down Stevenson who holds 8-2 record in the division and is looking for redemption after dropping a lopsided match-up against Kenny Florian.
Both men have a lot on the line; the winner of this contest will be catapulted into elite contender status within the UFC’s lightweight division with a title shot on the horizon, while the loser will likely be relegated to testing young up-and-comers on their way to title shots. So, who moves on – the gatekeeper or the newcomer?