Diego Sanchez: 5 Possible Opponents for His Lightweight Return
After suffering a loss to B.J. Penn in a lightweight title fight in December 2009, Diego Sanchez split wins and losses in four straight decisions at welterweight. Though Sanchez performed respectably in his return to the 170-pound division, he recently acknowledged the fact that he might find more success at lightweight.
In announcing that a return to lightweight could be in his near future, Sanchez stated that he would be interested in a bout against former WEC champion Anthony Pettis. However, coming off of a spectacular knockout win over Joe Lauzon, Pettis is probably deserving of an opponent who is closer to a shot at the 155-pound belt than Sanchez, who lost against Jake Ellenberger in his most recent appearance.
Should Sanchez compete at lightweight in his next trip to the Octagon, here are five potential opponents for the original The Ultimate Fighter winner who would make more sense than Pettis.
Edson Barboza-Evan Dunham Winner
Scheduled to meet at May's UFC 146, Edson Barboza and Evan Dunham are two rising lightweights who are still in need of a career-defining victory over a veteran like Sanchez.
The winner of next month's bout would be nearing title-shot conversation, so a potential win over Sanchez would help boost their resume enough to put them in position for a fight to determine a new top contender in the 155-pound division.
For Sanchez, the winner of the Barboza-Dunham matchup would be viewed as a worthy, yet beatable opponent in his return to the division.
In February, Takanori Gomi ended a two-fight losing streak with a knockout of fellow Japanese fighter Eiji Mitsuoka. Though the 33-year-old will probably never become a serious title contender again, Gomi's run as Pride lightweight champion allows him to draw hardcore MMA fans to any of his bouts against notable competition.
It would be a difficult stylistic matchup for the Japanese fighter, but a bout against Sanchez would allow Gomi the opportunity to throw his name back into the mix of lightweight contenders. Meanwhile, a win over Gomi would jump start Sanchez's run at another 155-pound title shot.
Tony Ferguson-Michael Johnson Winner
Since appearing on The Ultimate Fighter, Tony Ferguson and Michael Johnson have found success on MMA's biggest stage and are coming off of respective wins over Yves Edwards and Shane Roller. With wins over such respectable competition, Ferguson and Johnson could be nearing a bout with one of the lightweight's elite.
After the young lightweights meet at UFC on FOX 3 in May, the winner could set themselves up for the biggest fight of their respective careers against Sanchez.
The bout would be a good way for Sanchez to ease himself back into a lightweight division that has become brutal since his departure. Also, if Ferguson defeats Johnson, the fight would mean a matchup between two former The Ultimate Fighter winners, which would be an easy sell for the UFC.
Gray Maynard-Clay Guida Loser
Coming off of respective losses to lightweight champion Benson Henderson and former lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Gray Maynard remain two of the top 155-pound fighters in the sport. Therefore, the winner of their bout at June's UFC on FX 4 could very likely be one win away from a title fight.
For the loser of the Guida-Maynard fight, a matchup against Sanchez could make a lot of sense. With the fight between Guida and Maynard still being two months away, a bout against the loser of that contest would allow Sanchez time to get his weight under control for his return to the lightweight division.
Should Guida defeat Maynard there may be some hesitancy for Sanchez, who has trained alongside "The Carpenter" under coach Greg Jackson, to accept this potential matchup. However, a bout against Maynard would certainly not hit any snags.
Nate Diaz-Jim Miller Loser
In the same way as the matchup against the loser of the Guida-Maynard fight, a bout against the loser of the UFC on Fox 3 headlining fight between Nate Diaz and Jim Miller would make a lot of sense for Sanchez's return to the 155-pound division.
The bout would pit two of the division's most exciting and well-known fighters against one another in a contest that would allow the winner to get themselves back on a winning track and contending for the lightweight title once again.