"MMA is my baby," said Diego Sanchez. "I got my baby taken away from me for eight months (recovering from shoulder surgery). I was sitting on the couch, and it really made me figure some things out. It really made me realize that I can't fight forever. My body's not going to hold up forever."
Sanchez has, by his own admission, "a big heart and a strong mind, but a lot of times my mind is stronger than my body. That's how I end up getting injured."
Even so, he's still never been knocked unconscious in a fight. He's never been knocked unconscious in training. And the only time he's ever felt like he got thoroughly and absolutely beaten up was vs. BJ Penn.
What he remembers of the aftermath is pain.
"I took the wrong road after that," Sanchez said. "I covered it up with alcohol, with partying. I was trying to cover my pain in the wrong ways."
He tried to reinvent himself as a welterweight, with mixed results. He ran off a string of "Fight of the Night" performances, but he didn't even really get close to another title shot. Then came the shoulder surgery, and with it the mandatory time off.
"The clock is ticking for me as an MMA fighter," Sanchez said. "I want to realize my dream to become a world champion, and I realize my best chances are at 155."
These days, he's a married man, back home in Albuquerque, back at Jackson's gym and appreciating all the things about a fighter's life he took for granted before. He's also back at lightweight, hoping that a run at the title starts with a win over Gomi in Japan (FUEL TV, 10 p.m. ET).