Diego Sanchez is 2-1 in the UFC since moving back up to the welterweight division.
But, come September 24 and UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage, he is in for the biggest test since switching weight classes, as Sanchez takes on former UFC champion Matt Hughes.
A loss to B.J. Penn for the lightweight title sparked the movement for Sanchez (23-4), and “The Dream” has delivered, scoring Fight of the Night honors with wins over Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann.
Competing at a higher weight has allowed Sanchez to work more on his conditioning and fight skills, and not worry so much about dropping weight before a fight.
“I want to push the pace so hard that I get these guys that I fight to (the same) level I am fighting at,” said Sanchez, who also returned to New Mexico and has been training with former mentor Greg Jackson. “I am looking forward to fighting Matt Hughes. This is a fight I’ve wanted for a long time because I felt we match up so well.
“My high-pace, my conditioning, this is me at my best. I can go in there, put a fight in front of Matt Hughes, and, at the end of the first round he is gonna be gassing for air and I am gonna be feeling good because that’s just my warm up.”
After winning The Ultimate Fighter, Sanchez competed at welterweight, meeting the likes of Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch – both his first two defeats of his career. He moved to lightweight in 2009 and toppled both Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida, earning himself a shot at Penn.
Penn, though, dominated the fight, securing a doctor’s stoppage after busting the face of Sanchez up in several different areas.
Hughes is a former two-time champion, and last fought in November when he was knocked out by Penn. That loss stopped a three-fight win streak.
Hughes’ conditioning has never been a problem, but, the altitude change that Denver, Colorado presents could mess with the Midwesterner.
“I am going to put the pedal to the metal. I’m gonna break him,” Sanchez said. “I think the edge I’m gonna have is my speed. I am going to force the fight on him. I am a lot quicker than him. If he hits me with his best shot, I am going to keep coming, but if I hit him with my best shot, he’s gonna back up.
“I will defeat Matt Hughes. I look up to him, he is an awesome fight, but now it’s my time.”
The main event of UFC 135 features a light heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Hughes-Sanchez will be the co-main event of the evening.