Truly, these combat sport-related columns can get to the point where they resemble a Russian nesting doll. By the time I’m done writing this — never mind by the time it gets posted and printed — there will have been two more fights with serious intellectual- and industry-related implications. In boxing, 42-year-old Tony Thompson (whose only major losses have come to heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko) will face off against amateur wunderkind-cum-lazy professional Odlanier Solis in Istanbul, while, in the UFC, Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will face off in a rematch of their first classic meeting.
I’m not going to write about those fights this week or next week because, after a while, it gets irksome drawing parallels, as opposed to actually writing — on the surface — about more universal happenings. Still, there’s always something to be learned, I think, from two grown men turning each other into raw hamburger for money, no matter the outcome. So, let’s continue.
3. Myles Jury vs. Diego Sanchez
For a fighter with a 14-0 record, Myles Jury has inspired barely a whisper among MMA media or hardcores, let alone the hosannas that typically come along with being such a blue-chip prospect. For justification, we can probably look to his uneven beginnings. First tabbed to compete on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13, Jury tore his ACL before even fighting, and was laid up for an entire year, unable to train. He was brought back for the 15th season but, after winning his initial tryout fight, was defeated by eventual finalist Al Iaquinta in his first official bout of the season, albeit by split decision. Still, the UFC signed him to a contract, and that’s when his potential began to blossom into results. He went on a four-fight winning streak, submitting Chris Saunders, dominating now-contender Michael Johnson en route to a decision, obliterating fellow TUF competitor Ramsey Nijem by KO, and decisioning the tough Mike Ricci, after which he signed to face Diego Sanchez.
Sanchez is many things: he’s one of only a handful of fighters to compete in three or more UFC weight classes — middleweight (185), where he won the first Ultimate Fighter; welterweight (170), where he garnered most of his early momentum, defeating Joe Riggs, Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan (back when that meant something), and losing a narrow decision to rival Josh Koscheck; and lightweight (155), where he’s mostly been ever since — a former title challenger to then-champion BJ Penn, and “Fight of the Night” stalwart.
He’s also a complete maniac. On the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he practiced yoga in his spare time, declared himself a Zen master and tried to harness the power of a lightning storm. No one really argued much because he demolished all of his opponents en route to winning his weight class. But since his demoralizing title loss at lightweight to BJ Penn (a fifth-round head kick punctuating the beatdown), Sanchez’ record and behavior have grown (even more) erratic. He left and rejoined the Greg Jackson camp, changed his nickname from “Nightmare” to “The Dream” and has been known to hold a crucifix out in front of him on his walkouts before fights, though whether this is a stunt or he sincerely believes he’s on his way to battle a Child of the Night is unclear. He’s also gone 3-3 since the Penn loss, though could and should easily be 1-4, as decision wins over Martin Kampmann and Takanori Gomi were questionable at best, and BS at worst.
At the heart of Sanchez’ decline has been his propensity for, and preference to, “stand and bang” at the expense of strategy and finesse. His loss to Gilbert Melendez was thrilling, but only due to Sanchez’s ability to take an unbelievable ass-whipping and keep moving forward and his hail Mary uppercut in the final round that staggered Melendez and almost made for a dramatic upset. Sanchez is to combat sports what Ross Perot was to presidential races.
The Jury fight played out largely as expected: Sanchez rushed forward, winging cyclonic haymakers — if one had connected, Jury would certainly have been put to sleep, but that’s kind of like saying that, if Godzilla were real, Tokyo would be f***ed — while Jury laid back and counterpunched him all day. Sanchez rarely appeared rocked, staggered or discouraged; quite the opposite, in fact. He spent the interim mean-mugging, throwing out his arms in a “come at me, bro!” manner, and just generally inviting Jury to keep decimating him.
Sanchez is a rare case. Normally when an action fighter starts to decline, there are signs and implications that cause us to fear for his safety — namely a string of KO losses and potential brain damage (see everyone from Liddell to Ali to Jones, Jr. etc). For Diego, his downward trajectory hasn’t yet reached the level of “spiral,” though I’m not sure it’s any less troubling. He’s as willing as ever, in some ways as able. His body has begun to fail him, though it seems to have begun from the feet up. He’s an Ultimate Fighter OG, so the UFC would be loathe to cut him. Despite his eccentricity, he’s never been in trouble with the law, never failed a serious drug test (barring a positive test for marijuana metabolites after the Riggs win, so whatever), so he doesn’t come with much extra baggage or liabilities.
Sanchez’s staid unwillingness to conform or evolve parallels our own so-human proclivities. He clings to the traits — hard-nosed bull-rushing, raw power fueled by confidence — that garnered him his early success, which remembrances feed the continued overwhelming belief in himself that now sees him fall short. Certainly, he will begin to spiral; he will crash, over and over. In this, he is like anyone else who refuses to evolve: though such closed-mindedness is attractive in its way — “Like a Rock” — it renders him increasingly more predictable, ever irrelevant.
Upon his bones, the future is built. In equal measure, we mourn and snicker.