With over 30 UFC fights under his belt already, the plan is for Diego Sanchez to add four more by the time his current contract is up.
However, heading into his upcoming fight with Jake Matthews at UFC 253, Sanchez is open to the idea that any of his remaining opponents could be his last. Sanchez, 38, spoke to fellow Ultimate Fighter 1 alumnus Mike Swick on a recent episode of the Real Quick with Mike Swick Podcast, and admitted that Sept. 26 could mark his final appearance inside the cage.
“This could be my last fight,” Sanchez said when asked if his contract would determine his retirement timeline. “This fight coming up. I will be fighting Sept. 26, Jake Matthews, location to be announced, so I don’t know if it’s going to be Fight Island, I don’t know if it’s going to be Vegas. They have me, I’m on deck, it’s my time to get on them wrestling mats and go to work, I don’t know where it’s gonna be.
“I’m just grateful to have an opportunity through the crisis, coronavirus, and everything that’s going on all around the world, I have an opportunity. I’m just grateful to have any opportunity right now, because opportunity’s not just jumping around like it used to. You get an opportunity to make some good money, help your family, establish your future, you’ve got to jump on it. They sent me this contract, six weeks to get your ass in shape, Diego, and get your ass to the UFC and fight. I’m like, alright, we’re doing this.”
A pro since June 2002, Sanchez has heard retirement chatter around his name for years now, though he’s managed to avoid a long losing streak and has actually won three of his last four fights (including a controversial disqualification victory in his most recent against Michel Pereira).
That success may be one reason Sanchez has chosen to stay active as long as he has, though he no longer fears the day that he has to hang up the gloves.
“Look, here we go, I’ve got four more left,” Sanchez said. “I’ve signed my last contract with the UFC. I’m gonna ride these last four fights out and I’m done. I can see at the end of the tunnel, I can see that light, but I’m not afraid of it anymore. Before, for so many years I used to be like, ‘No, I’m not even gonna think about that. I’m not gonna think about retirement.’
“I remember when I was 27 I was like, ‘When I’m 37 years old I’m gonna look at everything. I’m gonna see where my health is at, I’m gonna see where my money’s at, and if it’s time, maybe I’ll take a couple more fights.’ Then I hit 37 and I’m like, I feel better at 37 than I did at 27. So I guess I’m gonna stick with it and now it’s to the point where it’s like, alright, be grateful for what you got and get these last four with your mental health, with your speech, with the ability to do other things outside of fighting, like be a father.”
Sanchez has no plans to get into one of his signature wild brawls when he faces off with Matthews, an opponent 12 years his junior. Whether the fight takes place at UFC APEX in Las Vegas or on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, Sanchez noted that there won’t be any fans in attendance and he doesn’t expect to feel an obligation to go for broke for the sake of entertainment.
“I’m at the latter stages of my career, so I don’t feel pressure to go in there and put on this great performance that I’ve always been putting on for the fans,” Sanchez said. “There ain’t gonna be no fans there, it’s just me and him, it’s gonna be quiet, and that’s back to The Ultimate Fighter. That’s rooted, ingrained in us.”
Heading into pro bout No. 43, Sanchez was in a reflective mood particularly in regards to how different his fight preparation was during his early days with the UFC and where it is now with coach Joshua Fabia.
Sanchez is acutely aware of the broader societal issues that are playing out in front of everyone on a daily basis and with that in mind, he sees his fighting future as relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
“I was never really, truly learning anything at Jackson-Wink,” Sanchez said. “I was just training with a bunch of a group of guys to where it was like a wrestling practice. Like a wrestling room, let’s get our wrestling, let’s get our drilling in, so now I have a better understanding now, especially for the mixing of the striking and the grappling. Fighting in the transitions and going past the martial arts to understanding human movement, this is everything. You can have a better understanding for your breathing, moving, and be the paint brush out there on the canvas called the UFC octagon. Gracefully.
“I’m trying to put my last touches of magic out there on the UFC. Finish out these four last fights. But if this is my last fight, this is my last fight. I don’t know if the UFC is gonna last, what’s gonna happen with the coronavirus and this current state that the world is in right now. You’ve got to be realistic about it and I am being realistic about it and that’s why I’m like, this may be my last fight because I don’t have many plans of getting in the backseat. Me and Joshua, we’re planning our retirement on the mountain on the other side of the city in the safe place, you know? So we’ll see what happens. I will never lose hope for humanity and I just hope that we can put it all together, that we can get this sh*t under control and that what needs to be rebuilt is rebuilt.”