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MMA: UFC Rio Rancho revisited

Diego Sanchez took a knee to the head when he was down and accepted the ruling of a disqualification victory during Saturday’s UFC Rio Rancho card. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Tucking in all the loose ends from a wild and crazy night at the Santa Ana Star Center would require more time and space than is available here.

Some of those loose ends in the wake of Saturday’s UFC Rio Rancho, as well, seem virtually untuckable.

Nonetheless …

DIEGO: Albuquerque’s Diego Sanchez has earned respect, even adulation, for the warrior’s mentality he typically displays in the cage. That’s true not only in his hometown and home state, but virtually in all corners of the MMA world.

So, Saturday night, what did Sanchez do?

The unwilling recipient of a third-round illegal knee to the head, Sanchez opted out of a fight he was losing by a wide margin to Brazil’s Michel Pereira. Sanchez could have chosen to continue but decided not to.

The result? A Sanchez win by disqualification.

There are, of course, two ways (at least) to view the outcome. Yes, it was un-warrior-like behavior from one of the sport’s tried-and-true warriors. It even appeared, amid the confusion that followed the illegal blow, that Sanchez was lobbying for a DQ victory.

Then again, an illegal knee is an illegal knee. And Sanchez, dazed and bloody from not only that blow but the many others he’d absorbed, did what was best for him — something we all try to do when we can.

“Sanchez has probably spilled more blood in the Octagon than the rest of (Saturday’s) card combined,” wrote Mike Chiapetta of mmafighting.com. “He’s been a pro for 18 years and has spent 15 of them in the UFC. He is the longest tenured fighter in UFC history, with 5,425 straight days on the roster. He has the second most nightly bonuses all time. He has earned every dollar and victory he’s ever made.

“If you are one of those people inclined to criticize him for taking the easy way out, please reconsider everything he’s already suffered throughout his career, and remember that it was Pereira that created this situation, not Sanchez.”

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Attendance at the Star Center was announced at 6,449, perhaps 1,000 short of capacity and well short of the near-sellout announced crowd of 8,775 that attended the 2014 UCF event at Tingley Coliseum.

According to numbers found online, it was the lowest attendance at a UFC numbered event or UFC Fight Night event since a Fight Night card in New Brunswick, Canada, drew 6,282 fans in October 2018.

So. For shame, right? How dare any metro-area MMA fans stay away because of the 40-mile (or so) round-trip trek to the Star Center from midtown Albuquerque? How dare they not be willing to pay higher ticket prices (the lowest rung was $80 for the Rio Rancho event, compared to $60 for the Tingley card)?

Ray Borg, top, prepares to throw an elbow to Rogerio Bontorin’s head during Saturday’s card in Rio Rancho. Borg was one of several New Mexican fighters to win. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Another way to look at it: 6,449 Albuquerque-area MMA fans paid more than half a million bucks — a gate announced at $596,820 — to attend Saturday’s card.

That’s a lot of people to have spent that much money in one of the smallest U.S. metro areas to host a UFC show in recent years.

It took the UFC 5 1/2 years to come back to New Mexico after the 2104 event, which the organization hailed at the time as a huge success. When, if ever, the UFC returns remains to be seen.

Neither Tingley (a rodeo arena), nor the Star Center (location, location, location) is ideal. Dreamstyle Arena — The Pit is out, its roof unable to support the UFC’s hardware. Sporadic initiatives to build a multipurpose arena in Albuquerque proper have gone nowhere.

Nor, meanwhile, do guilt trips take us anywhere.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS: Saturday was a good, even great, night for New Mexico fighters.

Only Moriarty welterweight Tim Means, who lost by second-round submission to Californian Daniel Rodriguez, failed to get a win.

An asterisk on that list goes to Mexico’s Rodrigo “Kazula” Vargas, who lost to Brok Weaver by disqualification (the dreaded illegal knee to a grounded opponent). Vargas trains principally in Mexico City but, as reported by Southwest Fight News, also spends time at Albuquerque’s Luttrell-Yee gym.

The winners: Sanchez (asterisk there, too), light heavyweight Devin Clark, bantamweight John Dodson, lightweight Lando Vannata and flyweight Ray Borg.

Big winner: Albuquerque’s Jackson’s Acoma, which went 3-0 (Dodson, Vannata, Borg).

In an interview with the Journal on Feb. 3, Dodson said he still spent time at Jackson-Wink, his original home. But Saturday it was Team Jackson’s Acoma, headed by former Jackson-Wink fighter Nick Urso, cornering for Dodson.

“Best gym in the city,” Vannata said of Jackson’s Acoma after his victory by unanimous decision over Yancy Medeiros.

MORE LOCAL CONNECTIONS: In 2014, the national MMA media savaged the New Mexico Athletic Commission — unfairly, for the most part — in the wake of the UFC Fight Night Card at Tingley.

After Saturday’s card, despite more than the normal allotment of strange goings-on, none of those has been laid at the NMAC’s feet.

Robert Romero, with fellow New Mexican Joe Coca two of the five referees who worked Saturday’s card, officiated the Weaver-Vargas fight. There’s been no second-guessing of his disqualification of Vargas, based on an obviously illegal blow. Romero acted quickly and properly.

Coca’s stoppage of the Dodson-Nathaniel Wood fight has been questioned by a few, but not vociferously.

Three New Mexico judges, Esther Lopez, Kenny Ortiz and Mark Sanchez, worked on Saturday. None was on the wrong end of a split decision, since there were no split decisions.

So, happily, there was no repeat of the horrible 2014 split at Tingley that gave Sanchez an undeserved victory over Ross Pearson. (Note: only one New Mexico judge was involved, and not the one who scored the fight 30-27 for Sanchez.)


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