One of the advantages of being a MMA fan over a boxing fan is that there are fewer weight classes to track. The UFC has a total of 10 weight classes, compared to the much larger 17 used by most major boxing promotions. But, while having fewer weight classes can benefit the fans and produce more competitive fights, the amount of pounds between the weight classes can make it tough for a fighter that lies somewhere in between to find a true home.

This is the case for Diego Sanchez, who has fought in three different weight classes throughout his UFC career, but for the most part has spent his time in the welterweight and lightweight divisions.

After winning the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter at middleweight, Sanchez made the drop to 170 pounds and was quickly thrown into the fire against top welterweights. Big wins over Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan had Sanchez climbing the welterweight ladder, but his rise to the top was shut down by back-to-back losses to American Kickboxing Academy teammates Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch.

Sanchez stuck around at welterweight long enough to earn a couple of quick wins, but he decided to make a serious run at a UFC title in 2009 by cutting down to 155 and setting his sights on the lightweight belt.

It didn’t take long for Sanchez to make an impact at 155, defeating season-two TUF winner Joe “Daddy” Stevenson in his lightweight debut and taking out top contender Clay Guida in a “Fight of the Year”-winning brawl soon after.

Two impressive winning efforts (with “Fight of the Night” bonuses) were enough to get Sanchez a shot at B.J. Penn’s lightweight belt, and thus the fighter then known as “The Nightmare” got his first and only shot at UFC gold thus far at UFC 107.

The bout started badly for Sanchez, who was rocked within the opening moments of the fight, and the rest of the match-up was largely dominated by Penn until a cut on Sanchez’s forehead caused the fight to be called in the fifth round. The loss remains the only time Sanchez has been stopped to date, and it was by far the worst of his career.

Following the loss to Penn, Sanchez moved back up to 170 for a four-fight stint, and he immediately was the victim of a surprising upset loss to John Hathaway. Sanchez has commented numerous times that he didn’t have the right mindset to be in the cage that night, but regardless it was a huge blow to his chances at making another run at welterweight.

Sanchez stuck around at welterweight a while longer, earning an impressive victory over Paulo Thiago before a controversial win over Martin Kampmann and subsequent decision loss to Jake Ellenberger caused the man who was now known as “The Dream” to announce his return to 155 pounds.

He’s now set to fight Takanori Gomi at UFC on Fuel TV 8 this weekend in Japan, and with the lightweight division going through a bit of a transitional period at the moment, there’s a good chance Sanchez could sneak his way into title contention with a few wins.

Right now, the UFC rankings at 155 feature names like Khabib Nurmagomedov, T.J. Grant and Rafael Dos Anjos, all of whom are fantastic fighters, but bring less than half of the marketability that Sanchez is able to bring to the cage.

Less than a year ago, the lightweight division was almost unanimously called the toughest in MMA, but with top fighters like Frankie Edgar, Anthony Pettis and Clay Guida all making moves down to featherweight, the door has opened for new contenders to step up at 155.

When you compare this situation with the welterweight landscape, it’s clear that Sanchez has made the correct decision on where to fight. Although he holds a key win over the current No. 1 contender at welterweight, Nick Diaz, Sanchez has suffered tough losses to fighters in the lower half of the top 10, and his control-based ground-and-pound attack is much more likely to work against the lighter fighters in the 155-pound division.

When “The Dream” can get his opponent on the mat, he can unleash punches at a ferocious pace without it affecting his cardio later on in the fight, and his ability to smother his opponents with his offense for the full 15 minutes may be his greatest asset.

It was obvious that Sanchez was having trouble working his wrestling-based attack at welterweight, especially in his bout against Kampmann, where Sanchez was picked apart on the feet and won the bout almost based on aggression alone. The same problem hit Sanchez in his latest bout against Ellenberger, in which Ellenberger won the first two rounds using his stand-up game, before fading in the third and allowing Sanchez to finish strong when the fight hit the mat.

There are so many wrestlers like Georges St-Pierre, Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald sitting atop the welterweight ladder, and the size difference between those fighters and Sanchez on fight night would be pretty substantial. Sanchez is still going to have to deal with some big, tough grapplers at 155, with current title-fight participants Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez chief among them, but at least he’ll be able to match up in terms of size on fight day.

This move back to 155 makes all the sense in the world for Sanchez at this point in his career. It seems like Sanchez should be nearing retirement since he’s been around for so long, but he just celebrated his 31st birthday a few months ago, and he still has time to make one or two more serious runs at a UFC belt.

Of course, everything has to start with a decisive win over Gomi this weekend, but if Sanchez is able to get off to a good start at 155, we could be seeing “The Dream” fighting top-10 competition sooner than we think.

Photo: Diego Sanchez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.