By its very nature, the prospect label isn't designed to have a long shelf life in combat sports. A fighter who garners attention and shows potential for bigger things gets the description, which sparks the process of the make-or-break moment where he either lives up to the hype or fades away.
The ever-shifting landscape in MMA can result in this transformation either happening or crumbling in the span of a few fights. Regardless of how things play out inside the cage, a fighter never wears the prospect label all too long at the highest level of competition—where he is consistently faced with the best talent in the sport.
By these standards, John Hathaway may be the longest standing prospect to ever come along in the UFC. The Englishman thundered onto the biggest stage in 2009—at just 22 years old—and dismantled Tom Egan in the first round at UFC 93.
While "The Hitman" made a proper introduction in Dublin, victories in his next three showings—the most notable being a lopsided drubbing of scrappy veteran Diego Sanchez—put the talented young Brighton native on the radar as a fighter to watch in the stacked welterweight division.
Yet, while a fighter can pick up heat quickly by stringing together solid showings, all it takes is one tough night under the lights for things to cool off considerably. The London Shootfighters product experienced this reality when he came out on the business end of a hard-fought tussle with Mike Pyle at UFC 120 in 2010.
While his loss to the savvy veteran was only the first of his professional career, the expectations surrounding Hathaway began to shift. The 24-year-old went on to notch victories in his next three bouts, but those performances seemed to lack the fire of his initial UFC run.
Unfortunately, an injury sidelined him for an extended amount of time, and that mixture of circumstances pushed him into a quiet corner in the relevant portion of the 170-pound collective.
Nevertheless, a return to full health and a main event showcase against surging contender Dong Hyun Kim at UFC Fight Night: Macao have set the table for the hard-nosed Brit to make a triumphant return to the welterweight ranks. He knows a victory over the "Stun Gun" on Saturday would not only serve as a proper re-introduction but allow him to pass into the next tier of the division.
With a win, he could leave the prospect label in the dust and gain some much-needed momentum.
"It is something I'm going to get back," Hathaway told Bleacher Report. "People were excited about me after my fights with Rick Story and Diego Sanchez, and I feel like this is the year where I get that back. This is the year I get back to the spot where I want to be.
"This division is great, and it's super-exciting right now. Georges [St-Pierre] has stepped down, and there are a lot of great competitors all trying to get to the title. Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks are about to fight for the belt next month. Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley are fighting on that same card. Demian Maia just lost, and Thiago Alves is coming back soon. It's a very exciting time to be in the UFC and be competing in the welterweight division."
While Hathaway has helped carry the torch for the next wave of potential contenders at 170 pounds, his opponent also has some experience in that department as well. The 32-year-old South Korean has amassed an impressive 10-2 (1 no-contest) record throughout his six-year run in the UFC.
That said, his two losses have come at crucial steps on his climb up the ladder. Those setbacks have kept him from staking claim to a seat at the table of title contention.
Hathaway realizes both he and Kim have a lot on the line and believes he will have the answer to the Korean's pressure-filled attack.
"It is a great feeling to be fighting in Macao and to be competing against someone like Kim," he said. "It feels amazing, and I just can't wait for Saturday. This is going to be my first headlining fight, my first five-rounder, and I'm just excited to get back out there and perform. It's going to be an exciting fight. I think we are both going to bring it and prove we deserve to be in the upper echelon of this division.
"It's definitely going to be speed and quick movement that will keep me out of the clinch with him. He always puts a lot of pressure on the guys he fights. In his last fight with Erick [Silva], he chased him down and ended up getting the knockout as well. You definitely have to be cautious of his hands in addition to the grappling skills he possesses. But speed is going to be what wins this fight."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.