Diego Sanchez has no worries about fighting in the area of opponent Jake Ellenberger.
"I know that I have a lot of fans that have been following me for eight years," Sanchez says. "Those people have followed me and I've given them some good fights. They honor me because of those good fights. Regardless of being in Jake's hometown or not, I know that I'm going to have some fans out there in the crowd."
Sanchez will face him Wednesday at UFC on Fuel 1 (6:20 p.m. ET, online stream; 8 p.m. ET, Fuel TV) in Ellenberger's hometown of Omaha. The headline bout pits Nos. 3 and 12 in the USA TODAY/SB Nation consensus rankings for welterweights.
USA TODAY spoke to Sanchez last week about the upcoming bout. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q: The two of you were supposed to fight at UFC 141 initially. What was your reaction when they told you it would be headlining in Ellenberger's hometown instead?
Sanchez: I just (thought), "Alright. A little more time to get ready."
I like the idea of fighting him. … It's just very interesting. I'm just excited (about) how it's going to play out.
I know that I have a lot of fans that have been following me for eight years. Those people have followed me and I've given them some good fights. They honor me because of those good fights. Regardless of being in Jake's hometown or not, I know that I'm going to have some fans out there in the crowd.
You were supposed to fight Matt Hughes in September before hurting your hand. How did that injury happen?
That injury happened just sparring with the MMA gloves. My hand was not taped and I just I threw a blow and it just cracked on me. … I just had to accept it with positivity and trust that God had something different in store for me.
How is your hand feeling these days?
Oh, man. The hand, it's a sledgehammer now. It's grown back with three times as much callous. It's like I have a natural fistpack.
ELLENBERGER: 'I've got to prove I'm better'
I'm excited to hit someone finally.
I read that you've put on 10 pounds of muscle, but Ellenberger is known for his strength. At this point, how much of a power advantage do you think he'll have?
I don't know. I think we're relatively about the same size honestly.
Right now, I'm 10 pounds out, but I really, really, really stuck to my diet. I'm pulling out all the stops for this fight.
The last fight for Martin Kampmann, I really messed up on the diet. I didn't cut out salt. I didn't cut out carbs. I ended up having to cut 14 pounds the day of the weigh-ins. That's three hours of cardio and another 30 minutes in the sauna.
I felt it in the fight, and even though I still was able to fight hard and put a hard pace, if I would have done the weight cut properly, I would have been able to press the fight even harder in the second and third rounds and, I believe, finished the fight.
Some folks thought Kampmann should have gotten the judges' nod. What's your case for winning the fight?
I put the pressure. I think in the second and third round, I showed I wanted to win the fight more. I got the takedown.
You know what the bottom line is? Martin Kampmann had the opportunities to put the pressure and come at me and try to fight me in the third round and he didn't. He had his chance to win the fight right there and he didn't.
It was the reverse. I was the one that was in there showing a lot of heart and coming forward and taking him down and taking the fight to him.
They don't judge the fights on blood. They judge the fights on the fight. That's why I have a win on my record and he has a loss on his record. Nothing anybody can say can take that win away from me or take that loss away from him.
It's in the record books and it was a unanimous decision; it wasn't a split decision. Dana White was right there on cageside and (posted) "Diego definitely won this fight" on his Twitter.
I've never had doubts about winning that fight.
Have you ever had any doubts about winning a fight?
No. But that was probably the most controversial fight, where people were saying so much in the media and stuff.
But we get these fights in MMA all the time.
How frustrating has it been to sit on the sidelines while other welterweights climb the ladder?
It is what it is. I've been training. I've got a real big fight with a top contender. I think Jake Ellenberger's a top contender. He's got five wins lined up. He's on a roll. To go in there and beat him would put me in a good place in the division.
Anything jump out at you from his win against Jake Shields?
No, not really. It was a short fight.
Jake Shields has been very predictable in the past. … Jake Ellenberger, he had a great plan, landed the big knee and put him to sleep. I was happy for him. He got an awesome win.
He's a good fighter. I don't see very many holes in his game. I know I'm in for a war.
What's the biggest area of concern when facing him?
He has power in his hands. He's like the Chuck Liddell of the welterweight division.
I'm willing to face that. I'm willing to face his strengths and go head-to-head with him.
What's your biggest edge over Ellenberger?
I think that my biggest edge in this fight is my experience and my wisdom that I take into the cage. The battles that I've been in and just my experience makes me the fight I am now.
I'm in good condition. I'm not going to have a hard weight cut this time. It's all going to come together real well for me.
This is a true mixed martial arts fight. I'm not going to say I think I have him here or I have him there. I think we're both mixed martial artists and you guys are going to have to wait and find out what we're going to do. I'm always evolving and getting better.
I read an interview in which you mentioned that having a family has given you new motivation. How does having a wife and son affect the way you train for a fight?
It has its challenges and it has its benefits.
I love to watch that movie Cinderella Man. He comes from the top and he goes to the bottom and he makes it back up to the top. I just kind of see myself as a guy like him.
Before I was just fighting for my own selfish goals. I had the goal of being champion, and that's fine; that was my dream. Now I have better reasons to train harder, to fight harder. It's not just me anymore. I have my wife, my son; it's a lot more. I feel like I'm a grizzly bear protecting the cubs.
I'm going to war for something that's bigger than me. Ultimately, I'm going to war for my testimony with faith in Jesus Christ. That's what I live for. After I'm done fighting, I'm going to be full-time ministry. I've changed my life. I've given my life to God.
I'm just going to fight my hardest. I'm going to fight with all my heart. I'm going to leave it all in the cage.
I know you're focused on Ellenberger right now, but if you win this fight, how close does it get you to a title shot? And would you have any problems fighting your teammate Carlos Condit?
That fight's not a problem for me and it's not a problem for Carlos either. We're both from Albuquerque. It's a good fight for Albuquerque and we both know that. We both want the same thing.
Like you said, I'm focused on Ellenberger, but yes, a big win in this fight would put me in the top of the position. ... That would be an awesome fight for me.
Diego Sanchez eager to face Ellenberger