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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touches down in San Antonio, Texas, where Rafael dos Anjos will collide with Leon Edwards in the welterweight headliner at UFC on ESPN 4. Stakes are high across the board.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?
Leon Edwards: On a seven-fight winning streak in one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions, Edwards finally gets his first opportunity against a Top 5 opponent. Edwards’ run has done little to cull widespread public support at a time when fan opinion seems to matter more than ever. He will need to find a way to stand out if he wants to close in on a title shot. Edwards is an excellent striker, but with only three finishes among his nine UFC victories, it has been difficult to get people excited about him as a contender. If Edwards can go out and put away dos Anjos, his prospects can go from lukewarm to white hot, perhaps allowing him to plant himself right in the thick of the title race.
Juan Adams: A Dana White’s Contender Series alum, Adams has been calling out Greg Hardy since he first set foot inside the Octagon. Can he back up all the talk in a featured grudge match between the two heavyweights? This fight represents a significant opportunity for Adams. A unanimous decision loss in his second UFC appearance diminished much of the steam he had built up, but a win over the polarizing Hardy could allow Adams to morph into a fan favorite. Capitalizing on bad blood was a smart move. Now, we will see if he can truly take advantage of the moment.
Irene Aldana: After a rocky start to her UFC career, Aldana seems to have finally found her footing in the women’s bantamweight division. She gets her first opportunity against a Top 10 opponent on the prelims, where Raquel Pennington awaits. It appears to be a favorable matchup, as Pennington enters the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses to Germaine de Randamie and Amanda Nunes. Aldana has proven to be a standout striker with long limbs, so it would serve her well to keep “Rocky” on the outside while using a distance-based standup attack. A convincing win could shift Aldana from prospect to contender at 135 pounds.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE?
Rafael dos Anjos: Dos Anjos has taken a workmanlike approach in his quest back to title contention. After a few hiccups followed an explosive start in the welterweight division, the former lightweight champion has designs on an eventual title fight at 170 pounds. Whether or not challenging Edwards was a wise move remains to be seen. An excellent fighter on an impressive winning streak, Edwards does not have much of a following and sits lower in the rankings than dos Anjos. While the Brazilian’s old-school approach to climbing the ladder can only be viewed as admirable, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Dos Anjos appears to have everything to lose and not much to gain from this encounter.
Greg Hardy: Hardy is still trying to “figure things out” when it comes to MMA. While the athletic ability is undeniable, he has had trouble finding a rhythm inside the Octagon. With Hardy off to a tumultuous 1-1 start to his UFC career, the powers that be decided to put an end to the softballs and give him a real test in Adams. While Hardy’s opposition has been heavily critiqued, it came as a surprise to see him paired with another promising prospect this early in his career. The UFC appears to have taken a put-up-or-shut-up mentality as it relates to Hardy’s progression, and it could come back to haunt the promotion. Hardy has a recognizable mainstream name, and Adams has shown he still has a long way to go. A win here does little for Hardy, other than allow him to gain experience, but a loss would leave him at 1-2 under the UFC banner -- a risky move for the former NFL standout.
Alexander Hernandez: Having started his UFC career with a bang, Hernandez was fed to the wolves far too early and wound up on the wrong side of a knockout loss to Donald Cerrone. It was a challenge for which he was not prepared. Now, he draws Francisco Trinaldo, a veteran of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” and a difficult out for anyone in the lightweight division. Hernandez risks much here. Trinaldo remains a relative unknown, and a second consecutive defeat would knock “Alexander the Great” out of the Top 15 at 155 pounds. Meanwhile, unless he pulls off something spectacular against Trinaldo, Hernandez figures to make little more than a lateral move in victory.