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MMA: UFC returning to NM in February

The UFC is coming back to New Mexico.

Mixed Martial Arts’ most powerful promotional organization announced on Monday it will stage a UFC Fight Night event at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho on Feb. 15.

It will be the UFC’s second card in the Albuquerque area, the first having taken place at Tingley Coliseum on June 7, 2014.

This will be the UFC ‘s first visit to the Star Center, but not the first for Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company. Zuffa’s WEC circuit, later folded into the UFC, staged a card there in February 2008.

Bellator, another major MMA promoter, staged a card at the Star Center in July 2013.

The possibility of the UFC’s return to the state was first reported by Nolan King, who writes for the website mmajunkie.com, and first reported locally by Albuquerque combat sports blogger Jorge Hernandez.

Some Albuquerque-area fighters are likely to fight on the Feb. 15 card, but UFC spokesman Chris Costello said no announcements will be made until the main event is secure.

Online speculation has identified Albuquerque bantamweight Ray Borg (12-4) as a likely participant.

Lenny Fresquez, Holly Holm’s agent, told the Journal via text that Holm is a “possible’ participant.  A hamstring injury forced the former UFC bantamweight champion out of a scheduled Oct. 5 fight against Raquel Pennington in Melbourne, Australia.

Later on Monday, Fresquez said Holm is contracted to fight on a Jan. 18 UFC card in Las Vegas, Nev, — thought that could change.

The 2014 UFC show at Tingley drew a crowd announced at 8,775 for a card that featured lightweights Benson Henderson and Rustam Khabilov in the main event. Khabilov, at the time, trained in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink MMA.

Albuquerque’s Diego Sanchez and John Dodson and Erik “Goyito” Perez, who at the time trained at Jackson-Wink, also fought on the card.

The 2014 card became somewhat infamous because of a highly controversial decision in Sanchez’s fight with England’s Ross Pearson. Sanchez won by unanimous decision, though virtually everyone but the three judges believed Pearson had won convincingly.

For that and other reasons, the New Mexico Athletic Commission, the state board that oversees combat sports, took a severe beating in the MMA media.

But Marc Ratner, the UFC’s Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, later told the Journal he had no problem with the New Mexico commission’s performance that night or in preparation for the card.

Costello said Pete Dropick, UFC Executive Vice President for Event Development & Operations, told him there was no single reason for the span of almost five years between the 2014 card and the card just announced.

“It was just a matter of timing,” Costello said.

The Feb. 15 card will be streamed on espn+, ESPN’s subscription streaming service.

Tickets will go on sale Dec. 20, Costello said.

Though the card was not announced until Monday, the groundwork had been laid for months. Gavin Pantoja, the outgoing chairman of the New Mexico Athletic Commission, said the NMAC had been having discussions with the UFC since June.

BOXING: Brian Mendoza and Angelo Leo are both from New Mexico, both now live in Las Vegas, both are 18-0 as pros — and they’re both fighting again before the year is out.

Mendoza (18-0, 13 knockouts), a welterweight, is up first. Saturday in Las Vegas, he’s scheduled to face Larry Gomez (9-1, eight KOs) in an eight-round bout on a Top Rank card. The undercard  portion of the card is scheduled to be streamed on espn+, starting at 4:30 p.m.

Leo (18-0, eight KOs), a super bantamweight, is scheduled to face Cesar Juarez (25-7, 19 KOs) of Mexico City on Dec. 28 in Atlanta on a Tom Brown/Mayweather Promotions card.

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