To many, it seemed obvious that Diego Sanchez took the money and ran. He was down two rounds to none on the scorecards in his UFC fight Saturday against Michel Pereira in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and he was getting pummeled in the first half of the final round.
Pereira committed a flagrant foul when he kneed a clearly downed Sanchez in the head. The ruling is a two-point deduction if the fouled fighter is able to continue or a disqualification for the person who threw the knee if he is not.
Sanchez was badly cut high on the forehead by the knee, so referee Jason Herzog had the ringside physician enter the Octagon to examine Sanchez. The doctor concluded that the cut would not prevent Sanchez from continuing to fight.
Then, the decision to go on was squarely put on Sanchez’s shoulders. And when he told Herzog he couldn’t see, that required Herzog to stop the fight and it gave Sanchez a victory by disqualification.
But when that occurred, it prompted criticism of Sanchez for what appeared to be a calculated decision to quit and guarantee himself his win bonus. Sanchez recently signed a new five-fight contract, and it’s likely this fight paid him at least $100,000 to show and another $100,000 to win (if not slightly more).
A veteran fighter like Sanchez, who has been in the UFC since 2005 and has fought professionally since 2002, knows full well that when he tells a referee he can’t see, the fight will be stopped.
So, many watching leaped to the conclusion that Sanchez knew that and it was his way of getting the $100,000 bonus in a fight that he had no chance to win.
Sanchez has sacrificed his body time and again for the viewing pleasure of others and in search of victory. To assume he’d quit goes against everything the man has stood for in 15 years in the UFC.
Now, the prudent decision probably would have been to quit and collect his bonus, because it was obvious to neutral observers that Pereira was dominating the fight. This, though, is where the awful corner work of Sanchez coach Joshua Fabia comes in. Pereira won each of the first two rounds on the official cards, though Sanchez was told by Fabia that he had won the first.
So as Sanchez was being attended to by the doctor, in his mind the fight was even. He knew he was probably losing the third, so the worst he would have gotten under that scenario if he finished the fight would have been a draw.
There are those who have watched this man’s career and seen him gush blood and take repeated punches, kicks, knees and elbows and keep moving forward who are now accusing him of quitting.
And I’d say to adapt that to MMA in modern times, Sanchez has never been a quitter. To give up in a fight before the final bell goes against every instinct in his body.
When Anthony Smith was kneed in the head by Jon Jones in their light heavyweight title fight on March 2, 2019, there were those in Smith’s corner desperately advising him to say he couldn’t continue. That would have given Smith not only the win bonus, but also the title.
Smith, though, refused, and said he couldn’t live with himself if he behaved that way. He took the time allotted and then continued to fight. Two points were deducted from Jones for the illegal knee, but he still won a unanimous decision over Smith.
Knowing Sanchez as we have over the years, why would we believe he’d behave any differently than Smith did? Smith doesn’t believe Sanchez knowingly quit and took the money.
“I gave Diego a pass on this because he’s never cracked before,” Smith said. “He’s never looked for a way out before. If anything, Diego is one of the guys who runs into the storm. If Diego says that he’s hurt, then I believe he was hurt. ...
“I got a lot of tweets and people were looking for me to roast Diego, but I didn’t because that’s not who this guy has been. He hasn’t acted that way before. Diego Sanchez has never given me a reason to think he’s a quitter, ever.”
Many of us would have made that choice and quit to take the money in a similar situation in our own jobs. Sanchez, though, is wired differently. That others would suggest he quit to take the money is the surest sign they have no idea of what is inside of this man and the strange energy that has made him one of the most beloved figures in the history of the sport.
Sanchez is not a quitter. Period. End of story.
This guy would fight to the death if he were allowed. He got his $100,000 bonus Saturday the way he’s gotten every cent he’s earned in his career since he began in 2002: By fighting as hard as he can for as long as he could and giving every ounce of himself in the process.
That’s the Diego Sanchez I know, and that’s the Diego Sanchez who was in that cage in his home state in front of his family, friends and many fans.
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