The first main card bout of the evening on Saturday at UFC 114 will feature a welterweight contest pitting The Ultimate Figher season one middleweight winner and former UFC lightweight contender Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (21-3, 11-3 UFC) against undefeated British prospect John Hathaway (12-0, 3-0 UFC). Sanchez is coming off an overwhelming loss at the hands of B.J. Penn at UFC 107 in which he fought for the title. He previously defeated Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida at 155 pounds to earn the chance. Hathaway defeated Rick Story, Paul Taylor, and Thomas Egan en route to a showdown with a much higher caliber opponent in Sanchez.
This fight will mark an important date for both fighters. Sanchez will be making his return to the UFC's welterweight division while Hathaway will step foot on U.S. soil for the first time in his professional career. It'll also mark the first time Hathaway has fought a well-known upper-echelon talent like Sanchez, and a win will definitely prove he belongs in battles with upper-tier competition in the division.
Sanchez brings a tried-and-true gameplan along with a very well-rounded skill-set to this match-up. Intense pace, courageous punching, and solid ground tactics, Sanchez will be more than a formidable test for the undefeated Hathaway. Earning himself a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Saulo Ribeiro, Sanchez will also be more dangerous in the scramble on the floor and more adept at avoiding submissions despite never being submitted in professional competition. It'll be Hathaway's task to stop Sanchez's dominating top control game from gaining legs, and most of the UFC's elite welterweights in the past have failed in that task.
Interestingly enough, Hathaway has talked about being the better striker and using his 6'1" frame to keep Sanchez at bay with his punches. Sanchez is far from a technically sound striker, but Hathaway hasn't shown us any proof that he's a tremendous knockout threat. He does have enough power to stun opponents and move to top control for the finish however.
Hathaway does have some opportunities on the ground as his grappling acumen does give him the chances to reverse Diego's positions. Against Story, he was able to stave off the early onslaught of slams and takedowns to ultimately reverse Story's position. Fortunately for Hathaway, his striking was good enough to out punch Story in the second round to tire him out and win the third in dominating fashion. It'll probably be a different circumstance in this showdown.
Hathaway's strength of record is also an issue as he's fought mainly British fighters in an era in which Britain's mixed martial arts scene was relatively small. These days, they've begun to build a solid foundation of good camps and trainers, but the competition Hathaway faced didn't seem to be within the elite in Britain. He's had the advantages of training in the States with American Top Team and Eddie Bravo, but I'm not exactly sure that's going to spell success against a buzzsaw like Sanchez.
If Hathaway can strike well enough to tire Sanchez, I'd give him a good chance to gain top control and damage Sanchez. The problem, however, is that Sanchez isn't going to tire unless he's absolutely demolished on the feet. I don't see that quite happening here. Sanchez should be able to takedown Hathaway and put the grind on him on his way to a decision victory here.