Sanchez joins Josh Koscheck as the only members from the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) who are still active on the UFC's roster, while Jury's first major exposure stemmed from a brief appearance on TUF 13 (he was sent home early due to injury) and a full term on TUF 15. During the latter, the 25-year-old suffered the only defeat of his career, a split decision to Al Iaquinta that was later voted "Fight of the Season". However, since TUF contests are considered exhibitions, Jury's professional record is technically unblemished.
And he showed why against Sanchez, who has an uncanny -- if not improbable -- knack for leveling his chances against stiff competition with sheer heart, determination and relentless aggression. Sanchez looked to overwhelm Jury with that very M.O. and set the tone early, but Jury stood his ground and bored long, crisp counter punches through the defense of Sanchez, and did so with an intelligent use of pivots and angles.
Sanchez stayed true to form and, with his vast gas tank and eager weaponry, continued to pressure Jury incessantly, and there were moments when his buzz-saw boxing and endless forward movement were effective. To stem those surges, Jury wisely began to change levels, implementing his takedown game by capitalizing on the predictable approaches of Sanchez. The black-belt-level grapplers veritably cancelled each other out though action and assertive attempts were not lacking on either side.
Two judges rendered a clean sweep for Jury while the third saw it 29-28, but the win was commanding. Sanchez took to Twitter the day after, citing food poisoning as the cause of his "weak" performance.
What was the high point of the fight?
This one was pretty action packed all the way through, yet littered with expected gems: Jury plugged Sanchez on the feet in the opening stanza and Diego nodded in affirmation, raised his arms and waved Jury in for more with a deranged combination of a grin and scowl. On another occasion, Sanchez vaulted into range, anticipated Jury's exit angle and connected with a wild flurry, prompting Jury to respond with a scorching right hand that popped open a cut under Diego's eye. Then there was the time when Jury booted Sanchez in the face with a high kick and Sanchez -- god bless him -- just lowered his head and charged after Jury with both guns blazing.
Where do they go from here?
Long term, they go in drastically opposite directions. Jury demonstrated the exuberant diversity of a young prospect yet conducted himself like a composed veteran while Sanchez did what Sanchez does, only his venom was considerably less potent considering the standard he's set in the past. That could be attributed to Sanchez's repetitive "strategy" or Jury just being clever enough to crack it, but one thing is certain in the grand scheme of things: Jury's on his way up while Sanchez is somewhere near the tail-end of his career.
Short term, Sanchez still seems like he'd eat UFC newcomers for lunch, so perhaps a calculated rung a bit lower on the ladder would suffice -- though some thought the Jury match up fit a similar description. Members of the old guard like Jim Miller, Pat Healy or even Yves Edwards might be interesting options, or he'd serve as a great litmus test for potential-ripe lightweights like Piotr Hallman, Bobby Green, or Alan Patrick. I say line him up with Joe Lauzon and bill it as the mutual massacre it will be undoubtedly be. Diego probably has the option to entertain candidates at welterweight as well.
Jury's performance and overall rise should validate him as a legit contender. Though scraps with Nate Diaz or Donald Cerrone sound salivating, a more viable path to a title shot might lie against upper-end lightweights such as Khabib Nurmagomedov, T.J. Grant, Rafael dos Anjos or Josh Thomson.
Watch it now, never, or later?
Considering the fireworks of the main event, this shouldn't be your first selection if you missed UFC 171 in its entirety. But it was a solid and entertaining skirmish, especially if you're into the whole prospect vs. veteran thing. Jury's generalship and dynamism kept it from becoming an all-out brawl but it was simmering right on the edge in a few choice spots. Overall it was equal parts technique, pace, skill and spirited combat.