Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sanchez vs Koscheck II: Bad Blood Boiling

By Ant Evans

It reached the point in boxing, UFC President Dana White said this week, where promoters began to claim almost every bout was a do-or-die grudge match between fighters who loathed each other.

Inevitably, fight fans eventually saw through the 'hate' hyperbole and realized fighters didn't necessarily have to want to devour each other's firstborn in order to have an exciting fight. As White rightly pointed out, some of the most thrilling wars in UFC history have been waged between men who would happily buy each other a beer afterwards (think Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonner or Kendall Grove vs Ed

But, as White added, the fans do respond when there is genuine bad blood between combatants - and a bona fide, 100% genuine grudge match takes place this Saturday when Diego 'Nightmare' Sanchez rematches with his Ultimate Fighter season one adversary Josh Koscheck at UFC 69: Shootout in Houston, Texas.

The bad blood between the welterweight pair has been on the boil for two years, since the first season of TUF.

Sanchez explained: “The reason this went down like this was we were friends in the house – but then I beat him. We were under the same roof, and were even roommates and on the same team, but when I beat him he didn't look me in the eye. He didn't give me my respect.”

As the months passed, the pair began sniping at each other via the internet, and a real dislike developed between the two. Then the feud really ignited when the pair had a confrontation in a Las Vegas nightclub.

As two of the hottest young talents in the170-pound division continued to improve their UFC CVs in 2005 and 2006, a rematch seemed inevitable. Still, with Sanchez in particular having blasted his way within striking distance of a UFC title shot, it is a credit to both fighters as well as UFC matchmaking that the fight takes place at this time.

Sanchez, 19-0 in MMA, said: “This is like Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. We don't like each other. He was saying I shouldn't be proud of my win over him because he didn't know nothing about MMA (at the time) and that next time he'd beat me easy. Easy? Everyone who knows anything about MMA knows beating me isn't easy for anyone. I just want to shut him up – I'm happy to be fighting him on PPV on Saturday but, really, I'd fight him any time any place if he agrees to show up.”

And while Dana White was non-committal on whether the victor would immediately be pitched in with the winner of UFC 69's welterweight title main event between Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra, the winner of Sanchez vs Koscheck will certainly be a worthy top contender to the championship belt.

For Sanchez though, fighting the vastly improved Koscheck just affords him the chance to mix business and pleasure.

“It's another tough fight but they've all been tough fights for a while now,” the Nightmare said. “I've been fighting top 10 fighters since I got to the UFC and I'm still here. This isn't anything different except I really want to fight this guy. As far as I am concerned, the UFC is my employer and I'm a good employee – I'll do what they ask of me and I am happy to fight whoever they want me to.

“Am I in a hurry to get a title shot? I'd take it tomorrow but I am also improving all the time so if I get another fight or two fights in before fighting for the belt I am happy with that too.”

The 5ft 11inch Sanchez's confidence is well founded. Since beating Koscheck in the TUF I semi-finals he has rattled off six more wins, including impressive victories over Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan and, most recently, a rapidfire KO of Joe Riggs. But while the Gaidojutsu expert starts as the favorite Saturday night, a lot of knowledgeable neutrals believe Koscheck, 8-1, could torpedo one of the UFC's few undefeated records.

Of the 64 mixed martial artists who make up the alumni of the first four seasons of the Ultimate Fighter, it is difficult to point to another fighter who has improved his game to the degree that 'Kos' has.

Training with the AKA team in San Jose, CA, Koscheck has greatly augmented both his striking and submissions and has gone 6-1 since graduating from the Spike TV reality show. Already a fearsome grappler before he entered the MMA ranks three years ago, the 2001 NCAA champion wrestler argues that only reason he didn't defeat Sanchez on TUF I was that he didn't really know what to do once he took the Nightmare down.

Now that he is more well-rounded, Koscheck has been telling everyone who'll listen that Sanchez's '0' is about to go.

But the Nightmare, who has spent some time training with boxing megastar Oscar De La Hoya in Puerto Rico, can't see it happening, despite admitting he faces a more formidable Koscheck this time around.

Sanchez commentated: “He's improved his striking and submissions since the last fight, sure, but we've both improved. People underestimate how much I've improved over the last two years; maybe that's because I'm been fighting top 10 guys and (the improvements) don't stand out as much as they do with Koscheck because he's not been fighting top 10 guys.

“His striking is better than it was two years ago, ok, but I've improved every aspect of my game. Because I've been training with Oscar De La Hoya, a lot of people have (focused) on that - but boxing is only one part of what I've improved overall. Boxing is just one part of striking and striking is just one part of mixed martial arts and I've been getting better and better in every department.”

However, Sanchez believes that no matter what Koscheck does in the gym, he remains at his core a straightforward wrestler who is always looking for the takedown.

He said: “The reason he takes his fights to the ground all the time is that he does not like to get hit. And that's a big, big hole in his game. Like I say, I am where I am because I put it on the line in the Octagon; Josh Koscheck is where he is because he's boring.

“And don't be surprised to see me taking him down and putting him on his back – because let me tell you he doesn't like it when he's on his back.”

The pair swapped insults on a Monday conference call, with Sanchez openly admitting that he'll be fueled by hatred when the Octagon door slams shut in Texas. He said: “I'm not mechanical when it comes to my emotions in fights. Some people like GSP don't let emotion get into it but, for me, all the hard work has been done in the gym and fighting comes naturally to me in the cage.

“When they lock that door I will fight with my entire heart and all my emotions.”

But one emotion in particular, it seems...

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