DENVER -- There is a difference in Yair Rodriguez as he heads into his first UFC fight in 18 months. How could there not be?
In May 2017, Rodriguez went flying into a featherweight matchup against Frankie Edgar with all the momentum in the world. He was 6-0 in the UFC and had asked specifically for Edgar, one of the most consistent, skilled fighters in UFC history. And Rodriguez was adamant he would knock him out.
The 26-year-old Mexican ultimately suffered a lopsided TKO loss to Edgar at UFC 211, then disappeared for a while. He attended to personal matters in Mexico and restructured his training camp. He got into a public spat with the UFC that nearly resulted in his outright release.
As he heads into a five-round main event against Chan Sung Jung (14-4) on Saturday, Rodriguez is still confident -- but there's not quite as much bravado and urgency to take over the world. The kind of 18-month stretch he has endured will do that to you.
"I used to think differently," Rodriguez said. "Before, it was 'Oh, I have to get the title.' That mindset is kind of gone. It's better to take it slowly. You learn what you're doing. The mistakes you make, you take it better. Right now, I'm focused day by day."
That said, Rodriguez doesn't want people to forget who he was before this low stretch in his career.
He was a budding title contender before the loss to Edgar. He was considered one of the emerging stars of the sport. He was turning heads with a flashy style that is not only highlight-reel friendly but difficult to prepare for.
In Rodriguez's mind, he is still all of those things -- even if some of the public might have forgotten.
"Every time I step into that cage, I show what I'm capable of," Rodriguez said. "A loss doesn't mean s---. Frankie Edgar is a tough m-----f-----. I want everyone to remember that. That was a loss because my f---ing eye got swollen, not because of other things. It was a medical stoppage. I would take that fight any time again.
"I don't have nothing to prove. I have to do my job and make weight. I can go five rounds if I have to. That's the most important thing. This fight is more special to me. I don't care if I win or lose. I'm worrying about enjoying every second of being in that cage."
Although Jung (10-2) has just one fight in the past four years because of military service in South Korea, he has remained highly ranked. Rodriguez accepted this fight on short notice, and a win would go a long way toward re-establishing himself near the top of the division.
As far as he's concerned, he's already there. And he never left.