Luis Saldana is happy to be home. Not in his native Des Moines, mind you, but the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
“For sure, I feel like this is my home. 2-0, about to go 3-0. This is my home territory. This is the only place I’ve fought in Vegas, here at the APEX. It’s pretty cool.”
The first victory was his contract-winning effort last November on Season 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series. It was an evening filled with pride, joy and relief.
“Super special,” he says. “Especially with the pandemic that year and the uncertainty if I was going to get a fight or not. I got offered that fight and just had to take full advantage of it, make the best of it, and I feel like I did. I came out here and got the job done, and now we’re here. It was a long time coming.”
It was the culmination of a long decade grinding it out in the game. Now 30 years old, Saldana marvels at how far he’s come since his first pro MMA bout in 2011.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t super into MMA, I just did it for fun. I didn’t really pursue being in the UFC or being a champion or any of that early on in my career. It wasn’t until I really started going when I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m good at this. This is what I want to do.’”
It was a good choice. On his way to compiling a 15-6 professional record, Saldana picked up a couple of featherweight titles on the regional scene before turning his attention to the big show.
Stoic, soft-spoken and exceedingly polite, Saldana outside the Octagon stands in stark contrast to Saldana inside the Octagon. The textbook definition of a well-rounded fighter, Saldana’s career wins are a lethal combination of submission and KO finishes.
“I’ve just gotten better throughout time, fighting better opponents, wrestlers who just challenged me in every aspect of my life. It’s helped me grow, a lot.”
Only his UFC debut win against Jordan Griffin went the distance. He knows that with the bigger stage comes bigger challenges, like the one he faces Saturday when he meets Austin Lingo in the featured prelim of UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs Gastelum.
“He’s an exciting fighter. He’s a striker, so that excites me, to get in there and put on an exciting fight for the fans. I’m hoping it’s going to be a good standup war. Whatever he brings, I think I will be ready for.”
Coach Eddie Cha and the team at Arizona’s Fight Ready have seen to that. Saldana credits the tutelage and culture of the gym for his continued ascent.
“I’ve got great coaches and a great team. Together all as one we’re a great team and we really push each other. That’s been a game-changer these past few years.”
Looking back at how far he’s come, the advice he would give his younger self is the same advice he’d give to newcomers in the sport.
“Take it serious. Like everything, take it serious and you’ll get where you want to go a lot faster.”