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UFC 121 Preview: Paulo Thiago vs. Diego Sanchez

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Two fighters will be looking to get back on track after humbling defeats when Paulo Thiago meets Diego Sanchez in a main card battle at this Saturday's "UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez" in Anaheim, Calif. Here is MMA For Real's preview of the welterweight contest:

Paulo Thiago:

Record: 13-2-0 overall, 3-2 UFC

Key wins: Josh Koscheck (UFC 95), Mike Swick (UFC 109)

Key losses: Jon Fitch (UFC 100), Martin Kampmann (UFC 115)

How he got here: Paulo Thiago represents one of the more interesting stories in UFC history. Perceived by many (and maybe even UFC brass) to be cannon fodder for Josh Koscheck at UFC 95, Thiago responded by knocking Koscheck loopy in the first round, securing his first career TKO win by strikes in the process. After falling, like many, to Jon Fitch by decision at UFC 100, Thiago rebounded with back-to-back wins against Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick. With a lot of hype behind him, Thiago fell flat in the biggest fight of his career against Martin Kampmann at UFC 115, losing by straight 30-27 scores in a fight in which he showed little.

How he gets it done: Despite using his strikes to secure a TKO victory against Koscheck and a submission victory against Swick, Thiago's bread-and-butter is his submission game. Eight of Thiago's 13 career wins have come via submission. He's added two TKOs and three decisions. Thiago has managed to finish his opponents via a variety of submissions. He has used six different submissions (triangle choke, arm-triangle choke, anaconda choke, rear-naked choke, guillotine choke, Brabo choke) in his eight submission victories, meaning he has versatile finishing skills. But you can't sleep on his power, either, as Koscheck found out. So did Swick, as Thiago blasted him with a right/left combo that dropped him before choking him out cold.

X-Factor: What version of Thiago will we get in this fight? Will it be the energized fighter that took out both Koscheck and Swick? Or will it be the almost lifeless version that was shut down and shutout by Kampmann in June?

Diego Sanchez:

Record: 21-4-0 overall, 10-4 UFC

Key wins: Jorge Santiago (KOTC 36), Nick Diaz (TUF2 Finale), Karo Parisyan (UFC Fight Night 6), Clay Guida (TUF9 Finale)

Key losses: Josh Koscheck (UFC 69), BJ Penn (UFC 107), John Hathaway (UFC 114)

How he got here: Sanchez opened his career with 17 straight wins (including six in the UFC) before being shut down by Josh Koscheck at UFC 69. From the Koscheck fight on, Sanchez is just 4-4 in the UFC and has dropped down to lightweight and moved back up to welterweight. Wins against Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida earned Sanchez a lightweight title shot in December where he was summarily decimated and dominated by BJ Penn. With little future at 155 pounds, Sanchez moved back to 170 where he fought John Hathaway at UFC 114. His return to 170 did not go as planned as he was once again dominated.

How he gets it done: Sanchez is a well-versed ground-and-pound fighter who has spread his means of victory through the three general methods. Of his 21 wins, nine have come with submission, six by KO or TKO and six by decision. It should be noted, however, that of Sanchez's nine submission victories, only two have come in the UFC and both of those were via punches.

X-Factor: The question has to be asked: Is Sanchez the same fighter he was before the Penn fight? He took a severe beating and looked listless against Hathaway. We've seen someone like David Loiseau never recover from a big-time beating (at the hands of Rich Franklin at UFC 58). Will Sanchez be the same? To me, that is the biggest story of this fight. The Penn fight also marked the first time Sanchez had been finished in a fight. Despite not taking a lot of punishment in his fights up to that point, did Penn decimate him so badly that he'll never be the same? You can't write Sanchez off yet, but this fight is going to go a long way in showing everybody if he can be the same.

Bottom line: After watching that performance against Hathaway, I truly don't believe Sanchez is the same fighter he used to be. Thiago, though, didn't light my (or anybody's) world on fire against Kampmann, either, so this is a tough one to call. This is a huge fight for both men. Sanchez absolutely cannot afford to lose three in a row, so the heat is really on him. Thiago is one the same plane, though, as a two-fight losing streak for him would be like a Sanchez three-fight streak when you consider their positions in the company. Thiago by decision.

Who do you think's going to win? Let us know in the poll and express why in the comments section!