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UFC at Santa Ana Star Center: Sanchez plans to steal the show

The show had barely begun on Thursday when Diego Sanchez stole it.

He plans to steal the show on Saturday, as well.

Sanchez, a veteran Albuquerque MMA fighter, was the first participant in a string of interviews Thursday at the Marriott Pyramid North in advance of Saturday’s UFC card at the Santa Ana Star Center.

Sanchez (29-12) is matched against Brazil’s Michel Pereira (23-10) in the night’s semi-main event.

All of Thursday’s interviews were scheduled for 10 minutes. Sanchez, in almost mesmerizing fashion, spoke for 18 minutes – holding forth on a wide range of subjects.

ON FIGHTING AT HOME: “On this land (New Mexico), I’m undefeated since the age of 12 years old,” he said. “I’ve been in the streets, to the wrestling mats, to winning state championships to winning the King of the Cage out there on the Santa Ana land. It’s been a great track record for me.

“When you’re fighting me in Albuquerque, you’re not only fighting Diego Sanchez. You’re fighting the desert. You’re fighting the high altitude, 5,000 feet. You’re fighting the dry air that gives you those chapped lips and dry throat. You’re fighting the elements.”

ON HIS NEW CONTRACT: At 38, Sanchez – 4-6 in his last 10 fights – recently signed a five-fight contract with the UFC. Clearly, that and his semi-main event status on Saturday are testaments to his continued popularity.

Sanchez noted that a few other fighters, mentioning Randy Couture and Yoel Romero, have been successful into their 40s.

“There are anomalies to the textbook of what you’ve been told … and I am one of those outside-the-box human beings,” he said. “I have always looked for the natural fountain of youth. At the age of 20 I started searching for this.

“… Now, at 38 years old, I will not lie to you. I will be honest. I feel better than I did at 22.”

ON DIEGO BEING DIEGO: Whether detracting from of his popularity or contributing to it, Sanchez has long been considered, well, eccentric.

He’s OK with that.

“There is a method to my madness,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Oh, he’s crazy, he’s crazy.’ But you know what, I do the work. I take care of myself. I’m working on myself. I’m healing myself.

“I’m meditating. I’m putting the time in. The nutrition, the diet, even down to the water I drink and how I take care of this vessel I’ve been given.”

ON CUTTING WEIGHT: Sanchez said he got out of bed on Thursday weighing 173 pounds, just two pounds above his target weight for Friday’s weigh-in.

The standard combat-sports practice of losing lots of pounds in the weeks before a fight, he said, has never made sense.

“I’m not gonna be like all these other guys and cut 20 pounds,” he said. “I’m not gonna do it.

“They don’t allow us to use IV’s (to replenish fluids) … So how am I gonna recover from pulling all the water out of my body and my brain, where I’m gonna get hit in the head?”

Sanchez believes Pereira, his Saturday opponent, has followed the typical weight-cutting pattern. By fight time on Saturday, he said, Pereira, having rehydrated and eaten, will significantly outweigh him.

He’s OK with that, too.

“You’ll see the size difference with Michel Pereira and myself come Saturday,” Sanchez said. “… He’s a big man, he’s a giant. But he’s draining himself, killing himself.”

ON LEAVING JACKSON-WINK: In June, Sanchez announced he’d left his longtime training home at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA. He promptly lost his first fight with his new coach and manager, Josh Fabia, working his corner – soundly defeated via unanimous decision by Michael Chiesa on July 6.

Any regrets?

Hardly.

“As I have continued to evolve in my outside-the-box methods,” he said, “this last year has been the most impactful year of my career as I have stepped outside of the box of Jackson-Wink and the team and just doing things like everybody else.”

ON SATURDAY’S FIGHT: “I could not be more happy,” he said. “I could not be more ready. And there’s a lot on the line come Saturday night. Just know that I’m gonna put it all in the cage.

“… You’re gonna see me not go to this guy, but go through this guy.”

ON HIS LEGACY: That, he said, already has been cemented as the man who started it all for Albuquerque by winning the UFC’s inaugural “The Ultimate Fighter” competition in 2004.

“I’m Diego Sanchez,” he said. “I’m a legend of the sport.”

Saturday

UFC Rio Rancho, 3 p.m., Santa Ana Star Center: Corey Anderson vs. Jan Blachowicz, 11 other fights. ESPN+. Tickets: $80 and up, ticketmaster.com.

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