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UFC 121:

Sanchez admits lack of focus last time out, hopes to rebound against Thiago

Popular welterweight says return to wrestling roots will help get career back on track

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Steve Marcus

John Hathaway, top, punches Diego Sanchez during UFC 114 on Saturday, May 29, 2010, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Hathaway won the welterweight bout by unanimous decision.

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — As has become his routine, UFC welterweight Diego Sanchez on Thursday turned his open workout session — for most fighters, just a bit of light shadow-boxing for the fans — into a full-on training session.

Spending more than an hour in the cage at the UFC gym in Rosemead, Calif., he worked up a sweat, did a bit of everything, and ended the run by working on a dummy on the ground against the chain-link fencing. As he slugged at it, he let out primal grunts that grabbed the attention of everyone in attendance.

This time, he swears, there's more behind it.

Sanchez put on a similar show at the MGM Grand before his fight at UFC 114 against John Hathaway, which was his return to the welterweight division following a lightweight title bout loss to B.J. Penn.

Against Hathaway, Sanchez laid an egg in a fight he was heavily favored to win, landing on the wrong end of a unanimous decision.

"I'm not going to make any excuses at all, but that last fight, I was unfocused," said Sanchez, who will try to avoid a third consecutive loss on Saturday at UFC 121 in Anaheim against Paulo Thiago. "I took my opponent lightly, my physique ... It was a lot of bad decisions. I cant' say anything about it. I didn't earn it.

"That's why my motto for this camp was 'Earn it.'"

In his second straight camp back in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., and working with trainer Greg Jackson, Sanchez said that his approach has come full circle, in a way.

He's again embracing his wrestling roots fully instead of trying to quiet critics who in the past have questioned his stand-up and striking abilities.

"Wrestling wins fights. It's been proven," Sanchez said. "Coming into this, my success was based off of wrestling. That's what won me The Ultimate Fighter (Season One); that's what got me to The Ultimate Fighter.

"I worked hard to become a better striker, put all of my focus into striking, and that hurt my wrestling. Ask any wrestler and they'll tell you that it's not that you forget to wrestle, it's just sometimes you don't remember to wrestle."

By employing that slick and sound ground game, Sanchez said, he hopes to finish Thiago on Saturday night the same way he was pummeling the dummy in the middle of a crowded gym on Thursday afternoon.

Sanchez clearly remains one of the UFC's top fan favorites, but a win this weekend is crucial to him staying relevant in terms of remaining a draw on pay-per-view fight cards.

He added that chasing a UFC title is not his sole focus now, as he doesn't have a specific preference in terms of which weight class he fights in moving forward.

"I'm fine at either weight," he said of the 170- and 155-pound comparison. "My thing is I want to fight big-name fights. I want to fight big fights that will be good for the fans, good for me and good for my career — good for everybody. I want wars. I want people who will give me that fear factor."

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