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Diego Sanchez renews dedication, promises to be cut above competition for UFC 166

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Diego Sanchez enjoyed his Christmas at home. He was surrounded by friends and family and there was plenty of good stuff to eat and drink.

Sanchez did what most Americans do around the holidays: He indulged himself and didn't say no to any food.

When the holidays ended, Sanchez weighed 211 pounds. With a fight set for March 3 in Japan, it meant that by the March 2 weigh-in, he'd have to lose 55 pounds in 61 days.

He made a heroic effort – he lost 53 – but failed to make weight for the bout with Takanori Gomi. Sanchez weighed 158, lost 20 percent of his purse and was embarrassed by feeling he'd let down so many people.

"I put myself in a stressed, pressured position for that fight with Gomi where I had two months to cut 55 pounds," he said. "I had to do what I had to do. I hadn't fought [since Feb. 15, 2012], and I had to get the ring rust off, as well as get that weight off. I wasn't at my best. I had a really, really rough weight cut and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong."

For many fighters, cutting weight amounts to torture and can be extraordinarily dangerous. That message was hammered home last week when Brazilian mixed martial artist Leandro Silva died while trying to shed 30 pounds in five days before a Shooto fight card.

Sanchez never felt his health was in danger as he was trying to make weight for Gomi, but he had a talk with himself. He didn't have distilled water in Japan, and that hurt his cut. But the real issue was having allowed himself to balloon so high in the first place.

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Diego Sanchez will fight Gilbert Melendez in UFC 166 in Houston. (UFC)

"It was hell," he said of the cut. "The positive is that I learned from it. I told myself, 'Never again.' I just don't want to go through that again, so I have to be disciplined in my diet and I have to be dedicated to the lifestyle it takes to do this. Never again am I going to go through this hell cutting the weight like I did.

"It cost me. It cost me my reputation. It hurt my family. It cost me 20 percent of my purse. I said never again, and I told myself that for the rest of my career, I was going to dedicate myself to doing all the things the right way."

Sanchez will face Gilbert Melendez on Oct. 19 in one of the top bouts on the main card of UFC 166 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Sanchez is arguably the sport's most exciting fighter. He's won the Fight of the Night bonus in five of his last eight bouts and in the three immediately prior to the fight with Gomi.

He won Season 1 of "The Ultimate Fighter," at 185 pounds, but for most of his career, he volleyed between lightweight at 155 and welterweight at 170.

That caused him a bit of an issue. He was essentially too big for lightweight and had to lose muscle to make the weight, but he wasn't big enough for welterweight, where he gave away size and strength to many of his opponents.

"If you look at the weight classes in the UFC, you start at 125 and every 10 pounds, you go up, so you're 125, 135, 145, 155," Sanchez said. "But then when you get to welterweight, it goes up 15 pounds. And I'm kind of stuck between the two."

But with dedication and living a healthier lifestyle, Sanchez knew he could not only make 155, but also put himself in position to make another run at the lightweight title.

He's had a lot of highlights during his career since winning TUF, but he doesn't want his legacy to be of an exciting fighter who couldn't win the big one.

A win over Melendez would carry great significance and would put him squarely in the title picture. Melendez is that good.

So Sanchez signed for the bout 13 weeks out and began training for it 12 weeks out.

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Sanchez learned from his previous struggles to make weight that he needed a healthier lifestyle. (UFC)

He's ready to put on a show for the fans in Houston, who last saw him in a listless loss to Jon Fitch at UFC 69 in 2007.

"It's not about erasing bad memories, it's more about redemption," Sanchez said. "I just believe everything is coming around seven-fold for me. This is just a big part of God's plan. I'm going to Houston and I'm going to give the fans there the performance that they didn't get back at UFC 69.

"I've embraced the lifestyle it takes. I love training and I love even the hard parts, the pain and all the negative things. I love that, too, because it's a part of working to try to be the best and to give the fans their money's worth."

He's only 31, but wants to keep fighting so that he can be an elder statesman in the game like Dan Henderson, Randy Couture and so many others were before him.

And he vows never to forget his fans, who made him into a star in the first place.

"I embrace my interactions with the fans and I enjoy them," he said. "I have heard of fighters being jerks with the fans and not cool, and that's a real turnoff to me. There is going to come a day when I'm not in the spotlight and no one wants to take a picture with me or talk to me. There may be another Diego Sanchez who comes along and everyone wants to talk to him. But while it's my time, I want to repay the fans for this great life I have. I have a beautiful wife and a baby girl and so many good things, and it's because the fans of this sport have supported me and helped us build our sport.

"There are a lot of sacrifices you go through to be a fighter. It's not an easy life, and like I talked about, losing a ton of weight isn't fun. But I am so appreciative that someone would think enough of me to put my picture on their wall or post it on their Facebook page. I'm somebody to somebody, I guess, and that's a good thing."

And if he can do what he says and control his weight problems, he could wind up being a somebody for quite a while longer.

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