Yair Rodriguez is determined to become a UFC champion in 2017. And the UFC seems determined to build him into a star along the way.
It has already been a whirlwind year for Rodriguez (10-1), who picked up a signature knockout victory over B.J. Penn in January. The knockout marked the biggest win of the 24-year-old Mexican's career -- and he's been living out of a suitcase since.
In February, he attended Super Bowl week in Houston. From there, it was on to New York and Fashion Week, where he said he briefly crossed paths with WME-IMG executives and UFC ownership Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.
Fans recognized him in Costa Rica, where he cornered a teammate. Then a Reebok photo shoot in Los Angele and a flight to Mexico City to be formally recognized by Congress.
"The UFC is giving me a huge opportunity," Rodriguez told ESPN.com. "I'm almost sure that if I win this fight, it will get me a title shot. Probably this year.
"I told the UFC that I wanted a top-five opponent, and they gave me the No. 2 guy in the world. This is almost like fighting B.J. Penn again, another legend of the sport. At this point, all my opponents are going to be tough, so I might as well take on the best -- the one that will get me the title shot."
It's no secret the UFC has been searching for a Mexican star for years. The country has a rich combat sports history -- in boxing. The UFC needs it to embrace MMA.
The promotion has invested money in a development program in the past, paying for Mexican athletes to train at Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2014, it launched The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America reality series. Rodriguez won the inaugural season.
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Rodriguez is 6-0 in the UFC and has headlined his past two events. He has a dynamic kickboxing style, which he believes opponents can't fully prepare for.
It's a style that also translates into action, another reason the UFC sees a potential star for Mexican fans to get behind. The promotion has him on the fast track by booking a fight against Edgar, a 35-year-old former lightweight champion who is one of the most consistent fighters of the last decade.
"Frankie has never been knocked out before, but he's never felt kicks like mine," Rodriguez said. "You can see that in my fight against B.J. Penn. Once I kick Frankie, I will follow his reaction. I'll see how he handles it and go from there."
One of Rodriguez's close friends and a fellow cast mate on TUF, Marco Beltran, is scheduled to fight on that card, and Rodriguez believes there's a good chance he'll sit cageside that night, hopefully scouting his next opponent.
"It makes sense to me that the winner between me and Frankie would face the winner of Aldo and Max," Rodriguez said. "That's what I'm looking for, of course.
"I can't pick between those two. I will take whoever it is. They are both tough. You have to prepare yourself for everyone, and I am prepared for anything."