Once a title challenger, Diego Sanchez views himself as MMA’s ‘Cinderella Man’

Steve Cofield
February 14, 2012

UFC 107 wasn't that long ago and yet it seems like another lifetime for Diego Sanchez.

The 30-year-old challenged B.J. Penn for his UFC lightweight title. Over five rounds, Penn tore apart Sanchez and essentially finished him with a kick to the face. Twenty seven months later Sanchez, fighting to remain relevant, is a minus-320 underdog to a guy who had just made his UFC debut just a few months earlier back in Dec. of 2009.

Sanchez is a respectable 2-1 in three fights since the Penn loss, but it's the way he's looked. His decision to move back to 170 pounds was questionable at best. He doesn't appear to be in tip top shape at the heavier weight and his defensive abilities have slowed. Sounds like he's in big trouble on Wednesday against Jake Ellenberger, right? Sanchez isn't shying away from these thoughts. He's using them as a motivator going into a fight that could get him back on track (FUEL TV 8 p.m. ET).

"I love to watch that movie Cinderella Man. He comes from the top and he goes to the bottom and he makes it back up to the top. I just kind of see myself as a guy like him. Before I was just fighting for my own selfish goals. I had the goal of being champion, and that's fine; that was my dream," Sanchez told USA Today.

Sanchez (23-4, 12-4 UFC) says the up and down nature of the last three years has given him a chance to reevaluate what's important.

"Now I have better reasons to train harder, to fight harder. It's not just me anymore. I have my wife, my son; it's a lot more. I feel like I'm a grizzly bear protecting the cubs," Sanchez said. "I'm just going to fight my hardest. I'm going to fight with all my heart. I'm going to leave it all in the cage."

Sanchez referenced the story of James Braddock. In the late 1920's, Braddock was a rising heavyweight star with a 44-2-2 record before chronic injuries derailed his career and turned him into a card-filling journeyman who went 11-20-2 over his next 33 fights. Braddock achieved the impossible by bouncing back in 1935 to challenge Max Baer for the world heavyweight title. The 30-year-old Braddock pulled off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history as a 10-to-1 underdog.