You have to watch this video below. It's pure surreality. Diego Sanchez, with his face leaking from being mauled and ripped apart, describes his moment of "ecstasy" as doctors and medical personnel somewhat frantically try to repair the gaping wounds.
Ecstasy? In that moment perhaps there is relief or an ease of tensions, but ecstasy? Yes, ecstasy. The type of tailored, pure joy only someone with the mental architecture Sanchez possesses could understand or appreciate.
At UFC on Versus 3, Diego Sanchez reaffirmed my belief that he is the toughest fighter actively competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. After a first round against Martin Kampmann where he was badly cut, rocked by crisp punches from a better striker and his ground and pound strategy was blocked by the Dane's superior takedown defense, Sanchez barely flinched. He lost the first round big, but you'd never know it by the way he continued to fight in the second and third rounds. Always pressing the attack, always on the offensive, always trying to find a way to create openings.
He rocked Kampmann by slowing his movement in the second. Sanchrez tried again in the third with less success, but with not an ounce less of determination. Kampmann ruined Sanchez's face in the first only to turn it unrecognizable in the third. Yet, Sanchez, refusing to believe there was any possible outcome but victory, pressed forward treating the mask of blood he was wearing as if it were caked-on sweat from a light jog.
Corazón, Spanish for "heart", isn't just the vague notion of being "tough" or a measurement of one's ability to take punishment (or just a word Sanchez references in this video). In its highest and truest form, it is the mental inability to surrender, to experience frustration or to allow bulwarks to prevent success. It's not just refusing to say no, however, it's also refusing to budge. Gameness is the pursuit of the fight despite physical consequences. True corazón, the kind where fighters persevere through unimaginable difficulty, the kind Diego Sanchez put on display last night, is success vis-a-vis gameness.
I didn't score the fight last night for Sanchez. It was tight, but I thought the accurate strikes and movement of Kampmann in the third was enough to award the Xtreme Couture product the win. But even if Sanchez had lost, I would only reaffirm my belief that Sanchez is the most mentally sturdy fighter in times of distress in the UFC, irrespective of weight class.
We should be candid and admit there is a downside to Sanchez's ability to reach great heights by giving himself positive self-messaging, refrain after refrain. It's this sort of rigid belief and self-determination that gets fighters in trouble later in their careers when their bodies can no longer meet the commands of their minds. It's what's failing Andrei Arlovski right now.
And I was sure Sanchez's loss to B.J. Penn would badly affect his career. Taking losses that one-sided with that amount of physical damage can often ruin a fighter's self-confidence and ability to compete. David Loiseau is a testament to that. The loss to John Hathaway, his first after returning to the welterweight division, confirmed that for me. Then came a stunning rebound against Paulo Thiago. And now, we have last night, a testament to how utterly wrong I was and how peerless his determination actually is.
I don't think he'll ever wear championship gold, but Diego Sanchez will forever stand above his peers and the vast majority of fighters ever to compete for his iron-willed performances of grit. He hasn't always won, especially on the biggest stages, but he's been in the trenches against elite fighters refusing to compromise an inch of territory. Georges St. Pierre is certainly a far superior fighter with a different level of skill, but when the walls are closing in he can't fire back and refuse surrender like Diego Sanchez. Not even on his best day.
No one else can touch him. Not Nogueira, not Couture, not Frankie Edgar. No one. Diego Sanchez, ladies and gentleman, is the epitome of corazón.