The last time Diego Sanchez fought for the UFC lightweight title things didn't go his way. He left the cage the night of December 12, 2009 defeated and covered in blood after a high kick from then champion B.J. Penn opened up a gruesome cut above Sanchez's left eyebrow. The wide cut left the cageside doctor to wave off the fight, ending Sanchez's title hopes at the 2:37 mark of the fifth and final round of UFC 107.
After that defeat, Sanchez moved up to welterweight for a four fight run, going 2-2 and racking up three Fight of the Night awards in those four contests. In his last contest, a split decision win over Takanori Gomi, Sanchez dropped back to lightweight. On Saturday, Sanchez will face former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez at the 155-pound limit at UFC 166.
Sanchez is looking at the Melendez fight as a direct path to a title shot. The winner of season one of The Ultimate Fighter spoke to MMAJunkie.com about his plans for the Melendez matchup:
I get out there and make a huge statement. If I take it to him, and I dominate him in striking, I dominate him in mixed martial arts and I finish this guy that nobody has ever finished, I think it's a huge statement. It makes a case for a title shot, and it's going to put me right back to the top.
Melendez is coming off a loss to then UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in his last fight, his UFC debut. The split decision defeat was only the third loss in the 24-fight career of Melendez. As Sanchez indicated, none of those defeats have come via stoppage.
Sanchez was also unafraid to offer his opinion on how he thought a fight with current UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis would end:
I feel like my style beats Anthony Pettis' style, and I feel like I can pressure him and it's all about timing. I feel I have what it takes to win the UFC championship at lightweight.
The path to a title fight may not be as smooth as Sanchez has convinced himself it will be with a win over Melendez. While Melendez enters the fight as the No. 2 ranked fighter in the lightweight division, Sanchez is currently outside of the top 10. With fighters such as T.J. Grant, Rafael dos Anjos, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Henderson ranked above him, there may be some roadblocks for Sanchez.
Before Sanchez can worry about any of title talk and rankings, he's going to need to get past Melendez, something the oddsmakers don't seem to think will happen. Bovada has Melendez as a -700 favorite over the +450 underdog Sanchez.