The UFC will return to the Apex this weekend in Las Vegas after two weeks away with four world title fights headlining those cards.
But this weekend will see a world title calibre fight headlining UFC Vegas 42 as former world champion Max Holloway takes on the man many have earmarked as a future champion, Yair Rodriguez.
It will be the first time in over two years that Rodriguez has stepped into an octagon, yet he’ll main event the card against arguably the best in the world.
It tells you all you need to know about just how much Rodriguez is rated by the UFC, his peers and the fans around the world.
His career started way back in 2014 with a win in Mexico City at UFC 180. He followed that up with wins over Charles Rosa, Dan Hooker, Andre Fili, Alex Caceres and the legendary BJ Penn to put himself into contention for a title shot.
He came up against Frankie Edgar though and was beaten to a pulp, with the doctor calling an end to the fight at the end of the second round with his eye swollen shut.
There was a period of readjustment for his expectations by some after that bout, but Rodriguez returned over a year later and earned a hail Mary win against the Korean Zombie with a stunning reverse elbow in the final second of the fifth round.
He’s since beaten Jeremy Stephens in a fight of the night performance too, cementing his place among the top of the division.
His lack of fights recently hasn’t been for a want of trying either. He had an issue with UFC management, and has seen a fight with Zabit Magomedsharipov cancelled three different times.
But now against Max Holloway, he has the chance to show what all the fuss is about.
This isn’t a washed up version of ‘Blessed’ either. Yes he lost the world title and the subsequent rematch (however controversially), but he has bounced back with one of the best performances of the year when he smashed Calvin Kattar at UFC Fight Island 7 in January.
Rodriguez will be coming up against one of the best pure strikers in the UFC today, and yet nobody is being bold enough to completely rule him out of winning the fight and there’s a reason for that. He’s incredibly talented and has the heart of a lion.
He is a brilliant striker in his own right, with a kicking-based style but he’s also got great power in his hands and good submission skills if he needs them.
A win for Rodriguez this weekend would not only elevate him to immediately become the next challenger for Alex Volkanovski, but it would justify years of hype around his name.
He has a chance to fulfil that destiny and become the man that everybody believed he was when he flattened BJ Penn. He won’t get a bigger opportunity to become a household name than this.
It won’t be easy and even defeat isn’t the end of the world, but it’s the manner of the defeat. If he gets dismantled in a striking battle like he did against Edgar when he was outwrestled, then the hype is likely to die out.
But if he can keep the fight interesting throughout, have some moments and just misses out then much like Michael Chandler at UFC 268 his stock will only rise even in spite of the result.
He’s either among the elites or he isn’t and this is his chance to prove where he stands.