Ask Diego Sanchez to give you a reason for his move from welterweight to lightweight for a UFC 95 main-event fight with Joe Stevenson, and the 27-year-old fighter will give you plenty of reasons why he'd be crazy not to drop.
He feels he was always a little too small for 170 pounds. He likes a challenge. And besides, he knows the cut is only going to get harder the older he gets.
But perhaps most importantly, Sanchez, who will drop close to 40 pounds in a two-month span for the Feb. 21 fight, has one ultimate goal in mind: He wants to retire having held both the UFC's lightweight and welterweight titles.
"I think it'd be a better to have a lightweight title and a welterweight title on your resume when you retire," Sanchez said during Thursday's UFC 95 media conference call. "So that's my goal."
That's why his current move to lightweight will likely be a temporary one. He eventually wants to return to the welterweight division, where he's gone 8-2 since his his time on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," where he won the show's middleweight division.
Sanchez dropped to the 170-pound division after defeating Kenny Florian in the show's live finale, and since then, his only two losses have come to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Sanchez was dealing with a gruesome staph infection during the April 2007 fight with Koscheck, which he lost via unanimous decision. And against Fitch, a massive 170-pounder who outweighed Sanchez by approximately 15 pounds on fight night, he dropped a close split decision.
Otherwise, Sanchez is undefeated in professional competition – oftentimes looking downright dominant. In fact, he was still considered one of the division's top contenders before he agreed to meet Stevenson at UFC 95, which takes place at the 02 in London, England.
So why the move to lightweight?
"The reason I went to 155 is because it's a challenge, and I knew it was going to take a lot of discipline," Sanchez said.
Fighting against time
That's not the only reason, though.
Like his opponent Stevenson, Sanchez has been involved in combat sports for more than half of his life. He recently began taking his dieting and nutrition more seriously, and Sanchez makes recovery a top priority both in training and competition.
But he knows that with each year that passes, the cut to lightweight is only going to get more difficult.
"I don't see myself staying at lightweight forever," said Sanchez. "That's one of the reasons I dropped to lightweight was because I was like, 'Hey, if I'm going to drop to lightweight, I better do it now while I'm in my 20s.' Because when I get into my 30s, it's only going to get harder. And from what everyone says, when you hit your 30s, it's so hard to lose weight."
And he's pushing the limits on his first cut. In less than two months' time, he'll go from nearly 200 pounds down to the 156-pound limit for his fight with Stevenson.
"I was 193 (pounds) on Christmas Eve, so I've dropped almost 30 pounds now," Sanchez said. "These last final pounds are (lost) through discipline. It's tough (with) nothing to eat. But I think as long as I'm in great shape, and I feel that I am in great shape, I'll be able to recover from the cut."
Sanchez, a former Team Jackson fighter, split ties with the New Mexico-based team last year.
He hasn't fought since June 2008, when he defeated Luigi Fioravanti via third-round TKO at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale. An announced bout with Thiago Alves, originally planned for UFC 89 but later moved to UFC 90 in October 2008, was scratched when Sanchez suffered a rib injury during training.
Sanchez said he's fully recovered for his upcoming bout, and though he's no longer affiliated with any team, he said he's ready and well prepared for his headline fight.
"I did my own thing for this fight," said Sanchez, who been training at 7,000 feet above sea level in Tahoe, Calif. since early January. "Basically – everyone asks me what team I'm from. I'm not really from a team. It's kind of like a Team Sanchez.
"It's me and Joey Gilbert. We've been together for a year and a half. ... We do this whole camp together – me and his guys he brought up and me and my guys I brought up. We just kind of rented some houses in Tahoe, and we got a private gym. Basically, there's no distractions. We focus, focus, focus."
Sanchez has been roaming around the West Coast rolling with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts. He's sparred with some of the sport's top strikers.
And don't for a second think he's not taking his conditioning seriously.
Criticism for the champ
After all, Sanchez doesn't want to make the mistake current UFC lightweight champ B.J. Penn made in his recent loss to welterweight title-holder Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94.
St. Pierre dominated all aspects of the fight, and before the fifth round could begin, Penn had enough. His corner called it quits just as the ringside physician was going to do the same.
Penn's now expected to fight Kenny Florian next. Based on Penn's recent performance, Sanchez sees a clear winner in that upcoming fight.
"After seeing B.J.'s performance against St. Pierre, I'd say it's a bad time for him to fight anybody right now," Sanchez said. "Man, that guy had zero cardio. And if he goes into the biggest fight of his life with that type of cardio and endurance -- and this is coming from a guy, I mean, I've never gotten tired in a UFC fight. You know what I mean? I've never gotten tired in a fight.
"He burned himself out in the first round just defending those takedowns. I think it's a bad time for him to fight Kenny Florian. I think as long as Kenny lasts past the first or second rounds, I think he's going to take over with conditioning. And you know, I don't care how talented you are. If you don't have gas in the tank, if the Ferrari doesn't have gas in the tank, it ain't going to finish the quarter mile. That's the bottom line."