It's been almost a decade since mixed martial arts fans across the country got a glimpse into New Mexico's renowned MMA scene.
In 2005, Albuquerque native Diego Sanchez starred in the first season of Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter reality show. By the season's end, Sanchez beat finalist Kenny Florian and scored a lucrative contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest MMA league.
But since then, the UFC has never hosted a fight card in Land of Enchantment. That changes tomorrow night when 12 fighters square off in headlining matches at UFC Fight Night 42, which will take place at Albuquerque's Tingley Coliseum.
Among the fighters on tomorrow's main card is Sanchez, now a 32-year-old veteran of MMA who's looking for a rebound after two recent losses. Sanchez, who hasn't fought in his hometown since 2004, tells SFR that tomorrow he expects around 160 family members to show up and cheer him on against challenger Ross Pearson in a three-round lightweight matchup.
"This is the full circle homecoming that I've always dreamed about," says Sanchez, sporting a mohawk and a grimace. "I'm ready to show my city I'm not done. I've still got a lot of fighting in this body, this heart, this mind and this soul."
Known for his strike-first style and sometimes poetic vernacular, Sanchez fights in his 21st UFC match since joining the league nine years ago.
"I believe in creation," he says. "I believe that God created me to be who I am, and I'm a warrior."
John Dodson, another New Mexico native, will take on challenger John Moraga in the flyweight category tomorrow night. At just 5 feet 3 inches and 125 pounds, Dodson, 29, must rely on his speed and agility to overcome the slightly bigger Moraga.
Both Sanchez and Dodson train at Jackson's MMA, the well-known Albuquerque gym run by Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. Two other fighters on the main card tomorrow night, Erik Perez and Rustam Khabilov, also train at Jackson's.
Khabilov, a Dagestan native, is looking to upset the No. 2 ranked lightweight Benson Henderson in tomorrow night's headlining event.
Preliminary rounds start at 5:30pm and the fights will air on Fox Sports One. Look to SFR next week for more coverage of the event and what the UFC has in store for New Mexico.