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Ultimate Fighter gives back to sports community (w/gallery)

By Julie Garcia
Jan. 4, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Jan. 4, 2014 at 7:05 p.m.

UFC Fighter Diego Sanchez, left, holds 10-month-old Zayne Orta while Zayne's mother, Cassandra Salazar, right, takes a photo during a meet and greet with fans at Victoria Community Center in Victoria.

READ MORE:Local fighters battle to the end

When Diego Sanchez began fighting 15 years ago, mixed martial arts were still referred to as "cock fighting."

Now, the 31-year-old Ultimate Fighter has seen attitudes evolve as years go by.

"When I was doing small shows like this, it was still frowned upon," Sanchez said. "Now, the UFC is on FOX with huge numbers. It's focused on global expansion."

A lightweight contender, Sanchez won the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and has gone 24-6 since 2005. He began his MMA career in 2002 and said that the groundwork laid by his generation of fighters has helped attitudes change toward the sport.

"Fighters like me that went through the darker ages, we earned it for the younger guys; (we earned) the spotlight of being known and respected as a true athletic sport," Sanchez said.

As the host of Victoria's Texas Rage in the Cage event Saturday night, Sanchez said he takes any opportunity to give back to the fighting community that helped raise him.

South Texas holds a special place in Sanchez's heart, as it is his "home away from home."

"I've never forgotten where I've come from, and I've always thought of myself as another human being," he said. "To come to a smaller town like Victoria, I love it. I love the small-town feel; I just love the real people that are out here working hard."

By the time the seven fights began, the Victoria Community Center was filled to the brim with MMA fans. These are the people that Sanchez likes to meet.

"I love these type of people that come out to an event like this and have some good, old-fashioned entertainment," he said. "Fighting is the oldest form of entertainment."

More than just a fighter, Sanchez is also a fan of the sport.

"People could be streaking across the street naked, and also there's two guys that are fighting; people are going to stop their car and watch the two people fighting," Sanchez said. "There's something in us that we enjoy - it's a part of human nature."

Victoria, Corpus Christi, Dallas, the Valley and other Texas cities were represented in the cage Saturday night.

Being on the other side of the cage's fence and watching amateurs fight is something that refuels the longtime fighter.

"For me, it motivates me and reminds me of where I came from and what it was like to fight on the lower level," he said. "Sometimes, I come to these events; it refuels me for my training camp and my next fight."

Sanchez's next fight will be March 15 in Dallas in UFC 171 against Myles Jury in the lightweight category.

Giving pep talks and tips to the amateurs is a part of the gig for Sanchez. From what a fighter eats for lunch to how much sleep he got the night before, everything factors into a successful bout, he said.

"When you're coming up, you don't know how to act and feel - it's all an experimental phase," he said. "You learn by trial and error. Besides what your coaches teach you, every fighter is different. Every warrior has a different mind."

"It's always going to be a fine balance between rage, craziness and technique," Sanchez continued. "That's why I believe MMA is the best sport in the world - so many attributes can determine a win or a loss."

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