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MMA's Diego Sanchez moves past food poisoning saga, even if critics haven't

Myles Jury lands a punch on Diego Sanchez during a UFC 171 mixed martial arts lightweight bout, Saturday, March. 15, 2014, in Dallas. Jury won by decision
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Diego Sanchez [R] gave it his all against Myles Jury at UFC 171 but also dealt with stomach issues. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

The words had no sooner come out of his mouth and Diego Sanchez was being mocked. He'd blamed a poor performance against Myles Jury on March 15 at UFC 171 on a sour stomach.

Sanchez said he'd eaten bad steak tartare before the fight and got ill, vomiting frequently and feeling tired and listless. He certainly fought as if something was wrong with him, as he was beaten stunningly easily by Jury.

There was little fire or fight in Sanchez that night. The signature passion was missing. Jury had a near-perfect gameplan, executed it perfectly and cruised to an easy win.

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Myles Jury lands a punch on Diego Sanchez. (AP)

Myles Jury lands a punch on Diego Sanchez. (AP)

Asked after the bout to assess his performance, Sanchez mentioned the bad steak tartare.

Social media erupted and blasted Sanchez for A) making an excuse for a loss and B) coming up with what was perceived to be such a ridiculous excuse.

Now, if ever there was a UFC fighter who deserved the benefit of the doubt, it's Sanchez. This guy has run through minefields in search of victory. He's never been one to shy away from a battle and he's always been willing to eat punches or kicks in order to land his own.

Plus, he's always been brutally frank and honest with the media, pouring his heart out in situations where he didn't need to be so candid or blunt.

It's almost like those who mocked him forget the five Fight of the Night performances he'd put on and his standup dealings with the media.

But as Sanchez prepares to fight in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., for the first time in the UFC when he meets Ross Pearson on Saturday, he's 100 percent at peace with the loss to Jury.

It's not haunting him or keeping him awake at night because he knows he was unable to perform.

"It is what it is," he said of the loss to Jury and the furor surrounding his comments afterward. "It wasn't hard for me to accept because me and my team and all the people around me, we knew it was no joke. It wasn't a big lie. I wasn't lying to the public when I told them I got food poisoning. I went into a fight with zero food in my stomach and almost totally dehydrated.

"What energy I did have, I used in my warmup. I tried to get a good warmup like I always do, and I went out there with nothing. I made a bad decision; no, it was a horrible decision. I ate beef tartare with a raw quail egg on top for my appetizer. It was extra rare steak, and it was me going back to that old school mentality: I'm a carnivore; I'm an animal; I'm a predator; I need that blood."

He sighs as he's speaking about it.

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Diego Sanchez (top) has the advantage over Gilbert Melendez in UFC 166. (USA TODAY Sports)

Diego Sanchez (top) has the advantage over Gilbert Melendez in UFC 166. (USA TODAY Sports)

"You know, it was stupid," he said. "I went against what my nutritionist had told me. I made a stupid decision. I thought I was invincible. I thought I'd made weight and I was glad I felt so good. I felt nothing could stop me.

"I ate what I thought was this good protein, but I got sick. I threw up two times at the hotel. I threw up three times in venue. I had nothing left. I snuck into the media room at one point and grabbed a green apple and a warm coffee, but I couldn't hold that down. What was I going to do? At that point, I felt awful, but you know me. No way was I going to pull out of that fight. I went out there like a warrior and I tried. I had nothing to give, but I tried."

Only a few days after that disappointing night, Sanchez learned the UFC was coming to Albuquerque for the first time. His mood instantly changed and he pleaded to be put onto the card.

When he's introduced before the fight by ring announcer Bruce Buffer, he'll be dubbed "The Nightmare," once again. He was known as "The Nightmare" throughout much of his early days in the UFC, until he decided to change it to "The Dream."

But "The Nightmare" always best described him, as a fighter and sometimes as a person. He said he's tried to not be as wild in his personal life as he'd been in the past, but there was no doubt, with a fight in Albuquerque, he'd be known as "The Nightmare" once again.

"For me, I went through a lot of change as I grew up," Sanchez said. "I had, in a way, become 'The Nightmare' in the cage, but also out of the cage. That's why I changed to 'The Dream.' But 'The Nightmare,' is who I am as a fighter and that's the way it's going to stay. I'll be a nightmare inside the cage and a dream outside of it."

Trainer Greg Jackson has worked with Sanchez to channel his aggression better. Sanchez so wants to perform and gets so hyped and aggressive at times that he literally runs into punches from his opponent.

It often makes for great theater, but it often winds up with Sanchez taking punches to the head he didn't need to take. He's on board with Jackson's coaching, he says, but he said he is still planning to put on a show.

He said the bout at home "is more rewarding to me than a title shot," but dismissed more and more frequent concerns that he's putting himself at risk because of all of the wars he's fought.

He doesn't slur his words and he insisted all of his medical tests have been clean. He said he's only taken a great deal of punishment in three fights: a 2009 title fight loss to B.J. Penn, a 2011 victory over Martin Kampmann and a 2013 loss to Gilbert Melendez.

"The B.J. Penn fight was the first one where I ever took damage," Sanchez said. "I got caught coming in. I got hit hard and I never recovered. He picked me apart the rest of the fight. After that, I still didn't take any damage until I fought Martin Kampmann.

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Ross Pearson punches Ryan Couture in their lightweight fight at the Ericsson Globe Arena on April 6, 2013. (Getty)

Ross Pearson punches Ryan Couture in their lightweight fight at the Ericsson Globe Arena on April 6, 2013. (Ge …

"When I fought Kampmann, something happened in that fight and to me, it's still the most epic moment in my career. I was losing and something happened and I flipped a switch. [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva calls it my crazy button. Call it what you want. I call it 'The I don't give an eff switch,' but I just flipped a switch and found out I'm more durable than I thought."

He admitted that he took damage in his loss to Melendez that many regard as not only the 2013 Fight of the Year but one of the best in UFC history. But he said he's evolved since then and is ready to put on a memorable battle with Pearson, who is a slugger of some note, as well.

"Look, I'm going to try to be better and I have worked hard on my technique and in trying to think in there, but let's be honest: I am who I am," Sanchez said. "I'm not fighting for bonuses or money or anything else. I fight because I love to fight and I love being in the heat of the battle and the heat of the moment. You might laugh at me when I say this, but I love feeling like I gave the fans their money's worth.

"And so, going back to the food poisoning thing, if people don't want to believe me, that's on them. I can sleep at night. I gave the same kind of effort in that fight I did against Melendez, but I just didn't have anything. But you can believe this: I'm going to have something for Ross Pearson. Believe me, I will have something for that guy."

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