Diego Sanchez changed his nickname from “The Nightmare” to “The Dream” recently.
But, Sanchez was living anything but a dream when he lost to B.J. Penn in a fight for the UFC lightweight championship in 2009.
Sanchez (30-4) is scheduled to meet Matt Hughes at UFC 135 on September 24 from Denver, Colorado.
In a radio interview he conducted, Sanchez talked about his own personal hell that he put himself through following the Penn fight.
“I lost control of life. I had just made my biggest payday and I was just down about the loss,” Sanchez said. “That was my dream to become world champion, and it still is. But it was at my fingertips and the way I lost, getting cut, so brutally cut, I was beat up…I let a person that I thought was a friend, a real close friend, someone that would help me with finances, I had him helping me out with stuff.
“Turned out I got embezzled for over $170,000. He conned me…I was sucked into a life of sin. I was smoking week, I was drinking, partying and it just really, truly held me back from my potential.”
Since that time, Sanchez has switched camps, going back to his old mentor, Greg Jackson, in New Mexico.
“I knew I had to make that change,” said Sanchez of reuniting with Jackson. “I moved out to the mountains, 30 minutes outside of Albuquerque. I just changed my whole life. I went from living a rockstar life, which I figured out was just a big lie. It was not true happiness, it sucked me in. It ate me apart.
“Greg Jackson always told me that if I ever wanted to come back, the door was always open. That gym was my gym. He said, ‘this is your house, no matter what. This will always be your house.'”
Sanchez lost his first match back after falling to Penn, as well, dropping a decision to John Hathaway. Since that time, though, he has picked up back-to-back wins over Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann – both of which have come by unanimous decision and earned Fight of the Night honors.
As for changing his lifestyle and refocusing on his career, Sanchez made a simple change.
“You know what I did? I grew up,” said the 29-year-old. “I stopped living that little young life that I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and that’s how I want to do it. Now, I’m (living) in a different life, a real adult life.”
UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage features a main event pitting UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defeating against former champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Hughes and Sanchez will serve as the co-main event.