UFC 121 Preview Part 2: Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago

Paulo Thiago (13-2; 2 (T)KO, 8 SUBs) is a submission specialist and elite special forces policeman in Brazil which is part of the reason I think he’s such a damn scary dude. How he has time to fight and work, I have no idea. His only two losses come in the octagon, via unanimous decision, the first was to Jon Fitch at UFC 100 (a fight that was delayed until after the main event due to time constraints), the other to Martin Kampmann at UFC 115: Liddell vs. Franklin. Prior to the first loss, he was 11-0 with 7 submissions, leaving him flirting heavily with excellence within the welterweight division and certifying him as a legitimate submission expert at 170 lbs. Having previously earned a knockout of the night performance for his win over Josh Koscheck, Thiago has also shown power to go along with his technical precision and will definitely have the grappling edge on the ground in his upcoming fight.

At 28 years old, Diego Sanchez (23-4; 6 (T)KOs, 9 SUBs) has reached a crucial point in his career. Reunited with his longtime mentor Greg Jackson after two consecutive losses to B.J. Penn and John Hathaway, “The Nightmare” needs to win to remain relevant at 170. Sanchez has come down a similar path as Thiago, having also battled against Josh Koscheck (Sanchez earned his first loss in that fight) and Jon Fitch. Thiago and Sanchez have split their common opponents, however, as Diego was able to grapple and strike his way to a split decision loss to Fitch. The only other fighter to take rounds away from Jon Fitch in that manner since 2004 has been the division’s champion and pound for pound best Georges St. Pierre. Sanchez has a motor unlike any other, and when pressed, he’s not going to break, although he did bend and take a significant beating at the hands of BJ Penn before succumbing to a head kick.

Both Paulo Thiago and Diego Sanchez are tough as nails and this should be one of the most anticipated fights on the card. This is a very strong match-up for each fighter: now that he’s back at Jackson’s, will Diego want to take this fight to the floor in order to get the finish via ground and pound? That’s not going to work against a world-class BJJ expert like Paulo Thiago. You’ve got to think that Greg Jackson and his camp have been focused on getting Diego to stay on his feet and set the pace standing; while Paulo has shown KO power in his fight with Koscheck, we can’t say that he can consistently rely upon his striking to influence a bout.

If Thiago has improved his striking and can keep Sanchez from connecting cleanly with power shots, while avoiding takedowns that could lead to bad positions for him, I think he’s got a really strong chance to pull off the win and hand Diego his first loss via submission.

Pick: Paulo Thiago via submission (R2)

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