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Michel Pereira promises more somersaults and backflips against Diego Sanchez

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Michel Pereira returns to the Octagon against Diego Sanchez at UFC Rio Rancho in February.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Michel Pereira’s third fight in the UFC will be against original “Ultimate Fighter” winner and longtime MMA vet Diego Sanchez at UFC Rio Rancho on Feb. 15. He guarantees he’s not changing his fighting style one bit in his next bout.

In May, Pereira made waves in his Octagon debut, knocking out Danny Roberts with a flying knee-right hand combo in the first round. He kept his theatrics for his next contest in September, ended up gassed out and lost to short-notice replacement Tristan Connelly.

The Brazilian told MMA Fighting at the time he considered quitting due to exhaustion in Vancouver because his “weight cut f***ed everything.” But he guarantees that problem has been solved for February, and he promises more somersaults and backflips during the fight.

“I’ll do it,” Pereira said with a laugh during an interview with MMA Fighting. “I’ve been criticized ever since I got in the UFC. It’s not something normal to see, not everyone does that, but this is my style. To me, it’s like throwing a jab. I’ll do it. Get ready for a show.”

Sanchez has faced every type of opponent throughout his 41-fight career, from wrestlers to grapplers to strikers, but Pereira believes he’s a new challenge simply because there aren’t many sparring partners willing or able to do acrobatics.

“I dare them to try it,” Pereira said of Sanchez’s sparring partners. “You can’t train for the things I do. The only thing I could possibly fear is getting taken down, but I have good wrestling and good jiu-jitsu. I’m a complete fighter, so I’ll be comfortable wherever we go.”

According to Pereira, the match-up was originally planned for UFC 246 on Jan. 18, but it was then pushed back one month to the Rio Rancho event. The Brazilian is fighting just a few miles outside Sanchez’s hometown Albuquerque, but “I’ll make sure the crowd is on my side when the fight starts.”

The 37-year-old “Nightmare” is the biggest name Pereira has ever faced in MMA. But the high-flying Brazilian admits he had no idea who Sanchez was when he first heard the name.

“I had to look it up,” Pereira said. “I’m actually really bad with names [laughs], but then I look at a picture or something like that, and I knew who that was. I haven’t watched much of his (recent) fights; I’ve only watched one fight to find out who they were talking about. I don’t watch fights that much.

“I don’t know about his losses (or) his record because we’re still too far from the fight. I don’t know if he should retire or not, but based on his age, I don’t know if he will be ready to fight me.”

Sanchez is coming off a decision defeat to Michael Chiesa that snapped a two-fight winning streak over Craig White and Mickey Gall. The Jackson-Wink talent is doing better now compared to a few years ago, when he suffered three first-round knockouts in 16 months by the hands of Joe Lauzon, Al Iaquinta and Matt Brown.

That said, Pereira still thinks Sanchez is past his prime.

“This guy has a history in the UFC, fans love him, (and) he’s done great fights,” Pereira said. “It’s only my third fight in the UFC and I’m getting a big name like him. This is very important for my career. I’m glad to be fighting him. He’s done great things in MMA and I’m sure we’ll put on a show for the MMA fans.

“I never thought about fighting him, but the opportunity came. I’ll fight him like I’m fighting any other athlete. I wasn’t surprised or thinking, ‘wow, it’s Diego Sanchez.’ It’s just another fight for me. His time has passed. It’s my time now. New generation.”