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Combat sports: Diego Sanchez prepared to roar

He has been “The Nightmare.” He has been “The Dream.” He has been “The Nightmare” again.

Now, Albuquerque MMA fighter Diego Sanchez is “Lionheart.”

Why the change? Well, he told MMA journalist Ariel Helwani on this week’s edition of “the MMA Hour,” it was a long story. Helwani encouraged Sanchez, being interviewed on Monday in advance of his fight Saturday against Al Iaquinta in Nashville, Tenn., to tell all.

He did, and yes, it was a long story.

By the end of a 48-minute interview, Sanchez had explained he’d had a “heart injury” that he later concluded was caused by his use of marijuana for licensed medicinal purposes. He no longer does, he said.

When fasting and praying failed to alleviate the problem, he finally went to a hospital.

At the very moment doctors told him his heart was perfectly healthy, he said, the pain vanished.

“Now I’m ‘Lionheart,’ because I received a miracle that day,” he said. “… It’s one of those supernatural stories that either you choose to believe it or you choose not to believe it.”

Believe this, Sanchez (27-9) told Helwani. On Saturday, Iaquinta (12-3) will face a rejuvenated, 35-year-old fighter.

“Come Saturday night,” he said, “the Lionheart gets into the cage for his 37th pro fight and I’m gonna bring this lion heart into that cage and nothing Al Iaquinta has, nothing that man has, is gonna stop this lion from pounding his chest, man, and doing what I do.”

There was more.

During his fast, Sanchez said, he received a vision. “Nightmare,” he was told, was all wrong.

“Then I felt like God told me your nickname should define you as a fighter. … What defines me as a fighter? It was my heart. … My corazón.

“Corazón de León.”

At the end of the interview, Sanchez said, “Some people will say I’m crazy. … The people who want to hate on me can hate on me, but Saturday night I’m bringing the lion heart into the cage, and that’s all there is to it.

“… I went through it to get to it.”

Sanchez is one of three fighters from Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA fighting on Saturday’s card.

In the main event, Jackson-Wink featherweight Cub Swanson (24-7) will face Russia’s Artem Lobov (13-12-1). Also, Jackson-Wink bantamweight John Dodson (18-8) is matched against Eddie Wineland (23-11-1) of Portage, Ind.

All three are fighting on the main card, to be telecast on Fox Sports 1 starting at 8 p.m.

JON JONES: UFC President Dana White said this week that he’d like to make a light heavyweight title fight between champion Daniel Cormier and former champion Jon Jones of Albuquerque on UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif., on July 29 — provided Jones is ready and willing. There has been no reaction from Jones, who trains at Jackson-Wink.

Jones is serving a one-year suspension after testing positive for a banned substance before his scheduled fight against Cormier on UFC 200. That fight, which was to be the main event of a landmark UFC event, was scrubbed. He comes off suspension the first week in July.

White has said he would not make Jones-Cormier the main event of UFC 214.

“He will not be the main event …until he builds back the trust of the consumers and me,” White said on Fox Sports’ “The Herd.”

So, who will fight the main event that night in Anaheim? As first reported by, Brazil’s Cristina “Cyborg” Justino posted on Instagram that she’ll challenge The Netherlands’ Germaine de Randamie that night for the UFC women’s featherweight title.

There has been no confirmation from the UFC or from de Randamie, who won the inaugural UFC featherweight belt with a victory by unanimous decision over Albuquerque’s Holly Holm on Feb. 11 in Brooklyn, N.Y. De Randamie’s victory was tainted by late blows landed by the Dutch fighter after rounds two and three.

As reported earlier, Holm (10-3) has accepted a fight against Brazil’s Bethe Correia (10-2) in Singapore on June 17.

LFA 10: Four New Mexicans are scheduled to fight tonight on a Legacy Fighting Alliance card in Pueblo, Colo. The card will be telecast nationally on AXS TV (DirecTV channel 340, DISH channel 167), starting at 7 p.m.

The New Mexico lineup:

n Nick Urso (Albuquerque, Jackson-Wink, 9-2) vs. Brandon Royval (Littleton, Colo., 5-2), flyweights/bantamweights.

n Jerome Rivera (Santa Fe, Luttrell-Yee MMA, 6-0) vs. Zac Riley (Pueblo, 5-3), flyweights/bantamweights.

n Andrew Tennesson (Albuquerque, Jackson-Wink, 4-1) vs. Andrew Yates (Greeley, Colo., 9-2), lightweights.

n Joel Whitney (Santa Fe, Santa Fe BJJ, 1-2) vs. Jordan Titoni (Denver, 1-1), lightweights.