Diego Sanchez made his successful debut in the lightweight division with the win over Joe Stevenson. Sanchez is an immediate threat to the division’s title and would love to be next in line to face the winner of B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian.
Two things will stand in Sanchez’s way, though; the first being at least one more fight.
The earliest rumored date for a Penn-Florian title fight is at UFC 99, which takes place in June. There is also the possibility that the fight could end up on the UFC 100 card, which takes place in July.
The man who emerges from that fight as champion would likely make his subsequent defense sometime between the months of September and November. Ultimate 2009, which takes place in December, is also a viable option.
Given that timetable, Sanchez will have seven to nine months to kill before his earliest crack at a title shot. Hence, the reason he will need at least one more fight. But timing is not the only thing standing in Sanchez’s way.
Despite the fact that Sanchez won his fight against Joe Stevenson, he was unable to finish Stevenson. Finishing “Joe Daddy” is something B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian had no problem doing.
So timing is not Diego’s only obstacle. He still has to prove his worth in the division. He needs to show that he can finish off his opponents. Granted, this was his debut at 155 pounds and dropping so much weight was an accomplishment in and of itself.
But, if Sanchez wants to be considered a fighter who can compete with B.J Penn, he needs a more dominant win at 155. So, who will Diego Sanchez fight next?
Again, we must return to the issue of timing and what fighters will be available. One fighter we can immediately scratch from the list is Sean Sherk. Sherk is set to take on Frankie Edgar at UFC 98, which takes place May 23.
We can also likely rule out Tyson Griffin who is scheduled for a tune up fight at Ultimate Fight Night 18, in April. If he goes unscathed though, he could be an option.
Let’s take a further look at a few top lightweight fighters who would be available for Sanchez to lock horns with.
Clay Guida and Nate Diaz are coming off their fight together at UFC 94. Both fighters would be a good opponent for Sanchez and the timing couldn’t work out better. Since their fight was so close, either fighter would be deserving of the fight.
Another possible opponent is the winner of Gray Maynard vs. Jim Miller, who will fight each other in two weeks at UFC 96. The winner of that fight will emerge with a lot of momentum, especially if it is Gray Maynard. With a win, Maynard would run his UFC record to 5-0 and would be one or two fights away from a possible title shot.
One last opponent is Joe Lauzon. Lauzon is coming off an impressive win over Jeremy Stephens at Ultimate Fight Night 17. He has a 5-1 record inside the octagon, with his only loss coming against Kenny Florian. A fight with Sanchez would push Lauzon into the spotlight and a win would vault him into title contention.
So how will Joe Silva, the UFC matchmaker, decide on Sanchez’s next opponent?
One logic would be to pit Sanchez against the man who most resembles a gatekeeper in the division.
That man would clearly be Clay Guida, who is 5-3 inside the octagon. This would give the always gritty Guida a chance to finally prove himself against elite competition while allowing the UFC to further groom younger talent in Maynard, Diaz, and Lauzon
A Sanchez-Guida fight would be a war of attrition as both fighters seem to have endless gas tanks. It is the kind of fight you'd want to go five rounds, not three.
Perhaps that kind of logic will not prevail though.
Sanchez vs. Diaz, Sanchez vs. Maynard-Miller, and Sanchez vs. Lauzon all have their own unique appeal and make sense using differently applied logic.
Ultimately, Joe Silva intertwines the fates of our favorite UFC fighters, but that doesn’t stop us as fans from offering our input. And, ultimately, our collective opinions carry more weight then we may realize.