Chris Cozzone: Reality TV offers up ultimate challenge
By Chris Cozzone / Tribune Columnist
January 14, 2005
The weak are eliminated. The strong will survive. Only one competitor will be left standing in each weight class.
The Ultimate Fighter. . . .
While the catchy opening of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's "The Ultimate Fighter," which debuts Monday night on Spike TV, might pique the interest of most fight fans, it still sounds like your typical reality show.
Ever since the unappreciated talent of William Hung was booted off "American Idol" and Fox canned boxing's "The Next Great Champ," reality shows have become ho-hum.
But on Monday night, I'll be parked in my recliner waiting for the first episode.
While the UFC rarely fails to thrill, with their big pay-per-view fights, the reason I'm ready to dedicate the next seven Monday nights to yet another reality show is Diego "The Nightmare" Sanchez.
Ask anyone who knows the local fight scene or anyone in the mixed martial arts world and they'll tell you this kid is good.
The 22-year-old Del Norte High product is one of 16 fighters chosen for the show. Over the course of seven episodes, Sanchez, one of eight middleweights (185 pounds in MMA), will eat, live and breathe the sport of ultimate fighting. He will train under two teams formed by UFC veterans, heavyweight champ Randy "the Natural" Couture and former champ Chuck "Iceman" Liddell.
As the weeks progress, fighters are eliminated until one competitor from each team is left standing. The champion will get a shot at being the next UFC superstar and a $300,000 contract that begins with a live fight in April.
The question is: Will Sanchez be the last fighter standing?
"I can't tell you," said Sanchez, who is under contract to keep a tight lip about the results. "All I can tell you is, the show was a real challenge. It was a life-changing experience.
"They call it reality TV because it shows reality, but what it did for me was take me out of my reality, from everything you're used to. In a lot of ways it sucked. There are no girls around. There's no going out, no going to Wendy's for a burger, no going out for a jog when you want. It's a strict schedule."
But was it worth it?
"Oh, yeah," he says.
In 15 fights (14 in MMA and one in boxing), Sanchez's ability to take a little bit of punishment and dish it back tenfold has gotten results. It earned him a King of the Cage MMA world title at middleweight.
"The guys I'm competing against in the show are all top-notch guys," he says. "Each had their strengths and differences. I can't say anymore than that."
Because the taping in Las Vegas ended in November, Sanchez has had to endure the longest layoff of his career. Because of contractual agreements, he can't fight in the cage or ring until the final episode airs in April.
"I've been keeping busy, teaching classes and training," he said.
While his trainer, Greg Jackson, is busy in Australia giving private lessons to Steve Irwin (TV's "The Crocodile Hunter"), Sanchez and stablemate Joey Villasenor are teaching classes at their gym, Jackson's Gaidojutsu.
"What was missing in Vegas was working without my normal corner and teammates," said Sanchez. "That was a real challenge, although it was a real honor and great experience to work with two of the best, Liddell and Couture.
"Still, I'd rather be here at home, fighting in the system that has worked to bring me to this level."
Win or lose on the reality show, Sanchez plans to fight as soon as possible.
Tune in to Spike TV Monday night for the next seven weeks to find out if Sanchez really needed to wait for the final episode.
Chris Cozzone owns and operates NewMexicoBoxing.com. His column runs Friday in The Tribune. You can reach him at .