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UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov - Al Iaquinta vs Diego Sanchez Toe to Toe preview

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Iaquinta vs. Sanchez at UFN 108 in Nashville, and everything you don’t about defying the biology of head trauma.

UFC Fight Night: Rockhold v Bisping Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Al Iaquinta and Diego Sanchez try to keep their current trend of quiet momentum running this April 22, 2017 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

One sentence summary

Phil: The Lionheart Dream Nightmare takes on the world's most furiously violent estate agent.

David: Al “are you booing me?!” Iaquinta dares to enter the cage against the one man even Iaquinta fans might boo if he beats him too savagely.


Record: Al Iaquinta 12-3-1 Draw Diego Sanchez 27-9

Odds: Al Iaquinta -390 Diego Sanchez +320

History / Introduction to the both fighters

David: I'm kind of surprised Iaquinta has reached this point. Not because he isn't good, but because absolutely zero people talk about him. He's 7-2 throughout his UFC run, which is kind of incredible. His current run is kind of insane: wins over Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, and Jorge Masvidal. For a guy that isn't even whispered about in the tucked away corners of the yahoo comments section, I firmly believe Iaquinta has set some sort of precedent. Is there a more human moment in the sport than Iaquinta practically holding back tears in response to the just bleed fans booing? Now he gets the task of a lifetime: beating Diego Sanchez just bad enough to avoid blasting through Diego’s blood brain barrier like a Koolaid man-sized fist.

Phil: Got to think a big part of the current fan indifference is his lengthy time away from the sport. It seemed like injury and financial woes meant that he'd stepped away permanently - unable to get a deal that he thought was good enough, he was off establishing a real estate biz. That he came back to what is rumoured to be exactly the same contract he left on is a bit of a bummer. His loss is our gain though, from generally being a quality action fighter, to going on drunken rampages, to having a long-standing and hilarious grudge against our own Tim Burke.

David: I’m pretty sure we’ve said this before. When will Diego simply retire for the betterment of his health? In a way, beating Held was a false blessing in disguise. I really don’t know what to say about Sanchez at this point. He’s a bolt rattling Frankenstein held together by asparagus and a Tony Robbins 10 day audio program.

Phil: How is Diego Sanchez still picking up quality wins in the Year Of Our Lord 2017. I do not understand one bit. I think we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop for a very long time with Diego- for his legendary durability to fall away, and then for him to suddenly, horribly disintegrate in front of us. It seemed like it finally happened when Lauzon knocked him out... then Sanchez beat Marcin Held. Who went on to beat Lauzon? I don't get it. People often talk about mind over matter, but something in Diego Sanchez genuinely is different. The TUF 1 winner continues to hold himself together through sheer psychotic willpower.

What's at stake?

Phil: You know, despite the fact that McGregor and Nurmagomedov have combined to stop all upward mobility at lightweight, it's really notable that there's a lack of upper level fighters with momentum towards the top of the division. There's Barboza, and the Poirier-Alvarez winner... and that's kind of it. Nate and Ugly Tony aren't taking fights. No reason why a resurgent Iaquinta couldn't jump in there. Similarly, if Sanchez pulls off a win the UFC would love to throw him at one last sacrificial big fight.

David: The only problem with either man winning is that they’ve got zero chance against some of the elite. Although Al had his moment against Jorge Masvidal. Free of controversy, of course.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Iaquinta is largely a boxer, who normally works behind a snaking jab and a long right hand, together with an occasional chopping low kick. He's very good at picking up on his opponent's tendencies and adjusting accordingly: capable of working on the back foot or pressuring, is skilled at selecting the "correct" distance, and at adjusting the height on which he attacks. As such, his approach generally expands with time, incorporating hooks from both stances, uppercuts, and more combination striking in general. While not defensively bulletproof, he's absurdly tough, and I struggle to think of a time when I've seen him badly hurt by strikes. This makes it particularly dangerous to hang around in the pocket with him- for example, Ross Pearson could land strikes, but was badly hurt when Iaquinta simply no-sold them and hit him back as hard as possible.

Iaquinta's takedown defense is good, largely focused on first-layer and positioning granted by his boxing footwork... but he's one of those strikers who tends to spaz out if the fight hits the mat for more than a couple of seconds; just not confident in grappling exchanges in competition scenarios. See: Melvin Guillard; Matt Mitrione (an oddly analogous striker to Iaquinta in terms of approach); Michael Johnson and... well, basically a lot of Blackzilians.

David: Iaquinta has the instincts of a seasoned boxer. Not not the mechanics or celerity of one, but just the instincts. He has a great command of movement, and trigger switches. As in, his back and forth movement outside the perimeter is great. It allows him to set up a pressure attack better than most fighters who just kitchen sink mechanics through the door. He’s not a real varied puncher, and this is where I believe he’s most flawed, not as an efficient fighter, but as a potentially better one. His right hand is his money punch, and he does a lot to set it up and counter with. It was the punch that got him back into the Masvidal fight, scoring talk aside. But other than being able to bomb in close quarters, and chopping kicks to close the distance, he uses a modest arsenal. Almost too modest. But it’s a credit to him that he doesn’t need much else. With great reaction time defending the takedown, he’s also more often than not, in a position to outbox his opponent thanks to a durable balance that is owed, in part, to his poise in the pocket.

Phil: It's difficult to say what Diego is nowadays. Just willpower incarnate, I guess. Let's talk improvements, though, as strange as that seems to say: he's never been the most adjustable fighter, but has definitely come into some veteran savvy to mix into his game: he feints more actively, is a bit harder to hit cleanly(!) and can even land meaningful strikes which don't involve gritting his teeth and tearing wildly at unyielding reality until his fists connect with something. Primarily a round kick to the body.

He's still a fantastic, tireless scrambler after all this time, both borderline-unsubmittable and unyielding in his search of top position. He's a weirdly terrible offensive wrestler, however, and has been for a while.

David: You’re right. We focus so much on the negative (a sincere concern for his health), that it’s easy to forget the positive. Having developed what us keyboard warriors have in abundance, self awareness, Diego finally fights with his body’s defense mechanisms on red alert. Sure, those defense mechanisms look like they’re dialed into a 56K modem, but it’s important to remember that even at half speed, Diego was one of the better fighters TUF produced during his peak years. You’d be hard pressed to think of another fighter who outscrambled Nick Diaz. The funny thing is, his problems were never technical. Diego hit his peak in a losing effort to a then-world class Jon Fitch. It was a competitive fight, and I sometimes wonder what might have happened if he won (I wouldn’t make that argument, but if Diego had gotten the nod I would have nodded and moved on).

He fought perfectly, literally shooting himself out of a fantasy cannon to begin the fight, and never let his scrambling-centric gameplan fade. Somewhere along the way I think he felt grappling wasn’t worth it. Not for the Bodhi-approved 100% pure adrenaline, and not for his career. So he started swinging what us brown skinned people like to call “chingasos”, and never really broke from this newfound habit. Ironically, Diego can select from a reasonable striking arsenal. He owns a brutal left high kick that works as the taco truck of left high kick violence to Crocop’s Michelin rated high kick resort of CPU shutdowning. And I think his right hook works in exchanges. But he just never channeled that into a strategy. Instead they became white noise tactics.

Insight from past fights

Phil: Ross Pearson beat up Sanchez by being more fleet of foot and attacking him from the outside while stuffing all his takedowns. Iaquinta can do that- he's also faster, longer, and hits harder than Pearson.

David: Sanchez showed a modest ability to adapt against Held, but Diego won’t have time to adapt or calculate against Iaquinta, which is my worry. Then again, if you ever count Diego out, do yourself a favor and always remember the Joe Riggs fight. Still, Sanchez is not all that good at closing distance, and he longer commits to scrambles the way he used to, which is perfect for Iaquinta’s limp leg, underhook method of counter grappling.


Phil: It's gotta be that Sanchez judging magic, right? I know we shouldn't root for Bad Sporting Outcomes, but it would be oddly perfect if Diego somehow engineered some horrific rip-off and Raging Al absolutely lost his shit.

David: You have to engineer a massive number of circumstances that get him there in the first place. Like that Chicago’s hockey team used a real Blackhawk to curse Bridgestone Arena after getting their asses kicked by the Nashville Predators, and one of the witch doctor stipulations is that American Real Estate agents are now cursed. Wait...<looks at editors in the control room>...this isn’t more racist than the Blackhawk logo is it? I want the readers to think I’m funny, but not at the cost of social justice, ya know? Hey Phil, can you hand me that Hugo Schwyzer Guide to Success book?


Phil: There is no reason to think Diego can win this- he's lost this style matchup or ones close to it multiple times. Even if he gets top position, he's not a big submission threat. However, Diego is still that lunatic who can somehow haul his way into unwinnable fights through pure fury. Al Iaquinta by TKO, round 3.

David: All facetiousness aside, this is Godzilla vs. Bambi in lightweight clothing. Al Iaquinta by TKO, round 2.