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Tuesday, March 5, 2013
What the future holds for Diego Sanchez

By Brett Okamoto

Takanori Gomi and Diego Sanchez
Diego Sanchez, left, outlasted Takanori Gomi by split decision in a successful return to 155 pounds.
In case you missed it: Diego Sanchez returned to the cage last weekend.

He missed weight in his first attempt to cut to 155 since 2009. He edged Takanori Gomi via split decision, looking just OK in the process (ESPN.com writer Josh Gross graded Sanchez's performance a C+, which sounds right). Then he called out Nate Diaz.

So, what is there to really take from Sanchez's return? Does Diaz make sense next?

Sanchez (24-5) is an interesting subject, especially when viewing him through a matchmaker's eye. Fans love him. He's one of the originals; a cast member of the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter." He's given us five fight of the nights, some spectacular UFC walkouts and the single greatest moment of any MMA Awards show to date.

In terms of being an elite fighter at this point in his career, that's up for debate. He's 3-1 in his last four, but is he a title contender? Respectfully, no. He's only 31, but hasn't always taken the best care of his body. He gets hit often. He's too small for the welterweight division and too slow for the best lightweights.

Seeing him take on Diaz (whether Diaz defeats Josh Thomson in April or not), I have to say, doesn't excite me too much. Sanchez made a good sell. The fight would deliver action (although, likely one-sided action) and it was a smart move to bring up the win he earned over Nate's older brother in 2005.

My problem is we can pretty much guess the outcome of that fight. Kind of like how we could somewhat guess the outcome of this fight against Gomi. Regardless of who won, we knew the two were evenly matched. We knew neither one is really a title contender. We didn't learn much.

To me, the best way to look at Sanchez now is this: Let's say you've found yourself a good walking stick, but you want to test out its strength before hiking through the mountains with it. So, you go ahead and bash that stick against a rock a few times.

In this scenario, Sanchez is the rock. He's a tough, durable, stationery object. You get a prospect you think is good, but you're not quite sure yet and you bash him against Sanchez. And I'm not saying make him a stepping stone to bolster a younger fighter's career, because I still believe Sanchez wins his share of those fights.

Here are several opponents I'd rather see Sanchez fight next, over Diaz: Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa, Daron Cruickshank, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

It's probably not a popular list. Generally, fans like to see two guys they're familiar with. If the UFC truly needs to cut close to half the lightweights on its roster though, I'd rather see Sanchez test these guys (and himself) than get lit up by Diaz, who holds such a stylistic advantage over him.