Sanchez has been involved in more "Fight of the Year" bouts than any other fighter in mixed martial arts; his first against Karo Parisyan at UFC Fight Night 6, then again opposite Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale (which culminated into a title shot against then-UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn, where the two headlined UFC 107), and finally against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166.
Joe Rogan has frequently referred to Sanchez as the best "third round fighter" in MMA.
Sanchez was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a Mexican American family. Sanchez still resides in Albuquerque, it is also the location of his training camp.
Sanchez was high school state champion in wrestling as a senior, before he started training mixed martial arts while working for UPS. Sanchez eventually joined Jackson's Submission Fighting, still while working for UPS, managing the time between work and training.
Sanchez made his MMA debut in 2002 in the promotion Ring of Fire, despite having injured his heel the night before. Sanchez mostly went for takedowns, while his opponent, who was a more developed striker, bloodied the young Sanchez. However, Sanchez continued to use his wrestling expertise, landed another takedown in the second round, taking his opponent's back, then sinking in a rear-naked choke, causing his opponent to tap. This made Sanchez the winner by submission, who then earned $600 for the bout. He then went on to compile an undefeated 11-0 record before becoming a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter.
Sanchez was chosen as a participant on the first season of the reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. Presented as a young, focused middleweight who only had one goal, to become a UFC champion. He won a contract with the UFC after defeating fellow finalist Kenny Florian via TKO, becoming the middleweight winner for the first season of the show. On the show, Sanchez was known for being the "odd-ball" of the group, practicing yoga at odd moments and trying to extract "energy" from a lightning storm, and was also a self-proclaimed "Zen master".
Sanchez made his post-TUF debut defeating journeyman Brian Gassaway by submission due to strikes at UFC 54.
Sanchez next defeated Nick Diaz via unanimous decision at The Ultimate Fighter 2 Finale.
Sanchez won a unanimous decision over John Alessio on May 27, 2006, at UFC 60.
Sanchez continued his undefeated streak with a unanimous decision victory over judo specialist Karo Parisyan at UFC Fight Night 6 on August 17, 2006.
Sanchez faced Joe Riggs on December 13, 2006, in the main event of UFC Fight Night 7. Sanchez landed a right hook that knocked Riggs down, followed by a running knee that knocked Riggs out at 1:45 of the first round. Sanchez subsequently tested positive for the agents found in marijuana and was sentenced to a three-month suspension.
Sanchez was then cleared to fight Josh Koscheck at UFC 69. At the weigh-ins for the event, Sanchez shoved Koscheck while they stared each other down. Sanchez ended up losing a unanimous decision to Koscheck, ending his undefeated run, in a fight that was virtually all stand up. Koscheck managed to keep Sanchez at bay with superior hand speed and footwork until the bout timed out, to take the win 30–27 on all three judges' cards. Several weeks after the fight, Dana White announced that Sanchez was sick on the eve of the fight and almost had to retire when a test came back indicating he had Hepatitis C. Doctors eventually concluded the test results were not correct, but could not diagnose his sickness, so the fight went ahead as planned. The day after the fight Sanchez had a hole in his thigh the "size of a coffee cup" and was diagnosed with a staph infection.
In his next bout, Sanchez lost his second straight fight by split decision to Jon Fitch at UFC 76 on September 22, 2007, before rebounding against David Bielkheden at UFC 82 with a submission win in the first round due to strikes. Following the win, Sanchez stopped Luigi Fioravanti via TKO due to strikes at 4:07 of the third round at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale. After pulling out of a fight with Thiago Alves due to an injury, Sanchez announced he would be moving to the lightweight division.
He made his lightweight debut in his next fight on February 21, 2009, at UFC 95 against Joe Stevenson. Training for the bout Sanchez worked with professional boxers Joey Gilbert and Lupe Aquino, Brazilian grappling experts Xande and Saulo Ribeiro and wrestling coach Bob Anderson. Although Stevenson pressed the action throughout the bout, Sanchez landed the better strikes and won by unanimous decision. Diego credits Tony Robbins for giving him mental preparation for this latest fight, and was seen entering the bout chanting "Yes!" repeatedly. This would go on to inspire the "Yes!" chant, popularized by professional wrestler, Daniel Bryan.
On June 20, 2009, Sanchez won a split-decision victory against Clay Guida at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom Finale. Sanchez won Fight of the Night honors, his second such award in a row. Opening up with a seemingly endless barrage of jabs and right uppercuts for the first minute he shook Guida, in the first round Sanchez also connected with a head kick that floored his opponent. Sanchez maintained a superior standup through the first round and the rest of the fight, though Guida rallied and made a contest of the next two rounds in a closely contested match. The fight went on to win "Fight of the Year" by several MMA magazines and the UFC.
At UFC 107 on December 12, 2009, Sanchez fought and lost to BJ Penn for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Early in the first round, Penn landed a right hand that dropped Sanchez, followed by flurry of punches that almost prompted referee Herb Dean to stop the fight. Although Sanchez was able to recover enough to stay in the bout, he was outclassed in the following four rounds that saw Penn dominate with superior stand up, whilst all 27 takedown attempts made by Sanchez were negated by Penn's superior defense. Early in the fifth round, Penn landed a head kick that caused a large cut to be opened up on the forehead of Sanchez. Herb Dean called the action to a halt for doctor's advice and the fight ended at 2:37 by TKO, marking the first time Sanchez has been stopped in a fight. This also marked only the second fight in UFC history to end in the fifth round. At the post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White was quoted saying Sanchez was "about as busted up as I've ever seen a guy." Sanchez had his bottom lip completely split open, with his left eye swollen shut and a large cut above his left eyebrow.
Sanchez returned to the welterweight division and faced John Hathaway on May 29, 2010, at UFC 114. In the first round of the fight, Hathaway caught Sanchez with a knee to the head as Sanchez attempted a takedown. Hathaway then dominated with ground and pound while all of Sanchez's takedown attempts were negated by Hathaway's strength. The rest of the fight saw Hathaway utilize his superior striking reach, giving him the unanimous decision (30–27, 30–27, 30–26), handing Sanchez his second consecutive loss.
Sanchez rejoined Jackson's Submission Fighting for his next fight with Paulo Thiago on October 23, 2010, at UFC 121. In this fight, Sanchez utilized his wrestling to control and punish Thiago in the second and third rounds. He also picked up Thiago and slammed him to the mat while screaming, Sanchez won the bout via unanimous decision.
Sanchez defeated Martin Kampmann by a unanimous decision on March 3, 2011, at UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann in a bout that earned Fight of the Night honors. In the bout, Kampmann dropped Sanchez in the first round, and continued to get the better in the exchanges but Sanchez continuously pressured Kampmann into the cage to force wild exchanges in the second and third rounds. By the end of the fight, both men were bloodied up especially Sanchez, whose face was a bloody mess.
Sanchez was expected to face former two-time UFC Welterweight Champion and UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes on September 24, 2011, at UFC 135. However, Sanchez had to withdraw from the bout due to a broken hand.
A bout between Sanchez and Jake Ellenberger was briefly linked to UFC 141. However, a lingering hand injury kept Sanchez out of action until February 2012.
The Ellenberger/Sanchez bout took place on February 15, 2012, at UFC on Fuel TV 1 Ellenberger defeated Sanchez via unanimous decision in a bout that earned both fighters Fight of the Night honors.
Sanchez then returned to lightweight and faced Takanori Gomi on March 2, 2013, at UFC on Fuel TV 8. Sanchez failed to make the 156 lb weight limit at the weigh ins, weighing at 158 lbs. He was fined 20 percent of his earnings and the bout was contested at a catchweight of 158 lb. Sanchez defeated Gomi via controversial split decision. 12 of 12 media outlets scored the bout in favor of Gomi.
Sanchez faced Gilbert Melendez on October 19, 2013, at UFC 166. He lost the fight via unanimous decision. The bout earned Sanchez his seventh Fight of the Night bonus award.
Sanchez faced Myles Jury on March 15, 2014, at UFC 171. He lost the fight via unanimous decision.
Sanchez faced Ross Pearson on June 7, 2014, at UFC Fight Night 42. Sanchez defeated Pearson via split decision. 14 of 14 media outlets scored the bout in favor of Pearson, 13 with scores of 30-27. UFC president Dana White indicated that the organization will informally treat the bout as a win for Pearson and that he would be compensated with a $30,000 win bonus.
Sanchez was expected to face Norman Parke at UFC 180. However, Parke pulled out of the bout in early October citing a knee injury and was replaced by Joe Lauzon. However, on October 23, it was announced that injuries to both Sanchez and Lauzon led to the pairing being scrapped altogether.
In January 2015, Sanchez had surgery to repair his collarbone that was broken in training.
After a lengthy hiatus, Sanchez returned to make his debut in the Featherweight division. He faced Ricardo Lamas on November 21, 2015, at The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2 Finale. He lost the fight by unanimous decision.
After the one fight stint at featherweight, Sanchez returned to the lightweight division and faced Jim Miller on March 5, 2016, at UFC 196. He won the fight by unanimous decision.
Sanchez faced longtime peer Joe Lauzon on July 9, 2016, at UFC 200. He lost the fight via TKO in the first round, resulting in his first TKO loss. The only previous TKO loss Sanchez had is when B.J. Penn stopped him with a head kick at UFC 107.
Sanchez fought promotional newcomer Marcin Held on November 5, 2016, at The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3 Finale. Sanchez won the fight via unanimous decision.
Sanchez next faced Al Iaquinta on April 22, 2017 at UFC Fight Night 108. He lost the fight via knockout in the first round.
Sanchez is expected to face Matt Brown in a welterweight bout on November 11, 2017 at UFC Fight Night 120.
Sanchez is married to Bernadette Sanchez and has children with her.Ultimate Fighting Championship
The Ultimate Fighter 1 Middleweight Tournament Winner
Fight of the Night (Seven times) vs. Karo Parisyan, Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida, Paulo Thiago, Martin Kampmann, Jake Ellenberger, Gilbert Melendez
Fight of the Year (Three times) vs. Karo Parisyan, Gilbert Melendez, Clay Guida
First The Ultimate Fighter Tournament Winner in UFC History
Tied (Frankie Edgar and Nate Diaz) for all-time leader in Fight of the Night Awards in UFC History (Seven)
Tied for 5th most victories in UFC History (14)
King of the Cage
KOTC Welterweight Championship (One time)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter
2006 Fight of the Year vs. Karo Parisyan on August 17
2009 Fight of the Year vs. Clay Guida on June 20
2013 Fight of the Year vs. Gilbert Melendez on October 19
World MMA Awards
2009 Fight of the Year vs. Clay Guida on June 20
2009 Bazzie Award for Fight of the Year vs. Clay Guida on June 20
2013 Bazzie Award for Fight of the Year vs. Gilbert Melendez on October 19
2013 Fight of the Year vs. Gilbert Melendez on October 19
New Mexico Boxing
2005 Fighter of the Year
2006 Fighter of the Year
2010 Fighter of the Year
Grapplers Quest Hall of Fame
Seven-Time Grapplers Quest Champion
New Mexico Activities Association
NMAA High School Wrestling State Champion