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UFC 107:

Diego Sanchez looks to pressure B.J. Penn

Sanchez believes the same mentality he used as a street fighter will help him become a champion

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Justin M. Bowen

Diego Sanchez enters the octagon before the main event bout where he faced Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter on Saturday, June 20, 2009. Sanchez won by split decision.

UFC 107: Workouts

Six of the biggest names on the card for UFC 107 share insight and strategy on their opponents for Saturday's fight in Memphis.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Diego Sanchez's mixed-martial-arts career will in no means be over when he makes his way to the Octagon on Saturday to face B.J. Penn for the UFC lightweight championship at the FedEx Forum.

However, the event will mark the end of a long road he's taken toward his goal of becoming a world champion.

According to Sanchez (23-2), he plans on finishing the journey the same way he started it — as a brawler.

"Over the years, I've tried to find myself, tried to find out who I really was," Sanchez said. "I ended up coming full circle, a circle that took me back to that street fighter I started as: Diego Sanchez, from 'Burque,' New Mexico, fighting on the streets."

Sanchez's youth wasn't particularly violent, but the 27-year-old fighter credits a street fight he got into with a football player in his hometown of Albuquerque as what sparked his interest in MMA.

In his latest fights, Sanchez said, he's gone back to those first feelings of adrenaline that came with an unorganized street fight.

It's what prompted him to make one of the more memorable starts to a fight in recent UFC history, when he opened up by sprinting straight toward Clay Guida in their fight in Las Vegas in June.

"When I do that, it's just my style," said Sanchez. "I feel no reason to fiddle-faddle around. That's why me and Clay were fight of the year. I went in there and put pressure on him and he fought back. That makes for a great fight."

Although he has taken to a street-fighting approach inside the Octagon, it's hard to find a fighter more spiritual than Sanchez outside of it.

Sanchez has always been known to incorporate activities such as yoga and daily prayers into his fight preparations and even has trained himself to walk over burning coals.

While other fighters subscribe to working mitts and rolling with sparring partners during pre-fight workouts, Sanchez can spend hours slowly stretching his body out and performing mental exercises that include spinning until he gets dizzy before recentering his balance.

For a spiritual fighter like Sanchez, it's these types of preparations that can give him an edge over a fighter like Penn, who many believe will be the more technically sound fighter in their championship fight.

"It's taught me that the mind and the body can do anything," Sanchez said. "There are no limits. The only limits are the limits we give ourselves. That's the mentality I have going into this fight, and that's the mentality I have with my career. The only person that can stop Diego Sanchez is Diego Sanchez."

Saturday will be the first time since 2003 that Sanchez even has had to prepare for a fight that could possibly go five rounds.

Instead of being intimidated by the addition of two rounds, Sanchez said he's always looked forward to fighting five-rounders and would have given anything for two more rounds in his back-to-back decision losses in 2007.

Although Penn is certainly more experienced in training for longer fights, Sanchez said he's got the conditioning to outlast him if the fight goes the distance.

"I think it's my heart that will win me this fight," Sanchez said. "B.J. has done his work; he's hired conditioning coaches and had his diet on point. I figure he's going to come in good shape.

"But that's not Diego Sanchez shape. I'm a workhorse. I've been working for this my whole life. B.J. says he's doing this for fun. I'm doing this for other reasons. I'm fighting with my heart, soul and passion. As the rounds go on, I will be stronger."

Of course, street fighters don't think in terms of rounds.

And for Sanchez, the ability to imagine UFC 107 as just another youthful brawl could turn into his greatest strength.

"I'm going into this fight thinking, 'B.J. Penn has a got a knife in his pocket, I've got to take him out,'" Sanchez said. "That's the mentality. I'm not thinking about maybe going after him the second round. I'm thinking I've got to take him out before he takes me out.

"When I flip that switch, there's no looking back. I don't see the crowd. I just see B.J. Penn in my cage."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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