Alexander Hernandez's Shot at Being a Breakout Star Begins with Cowboy Cerrone

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2019

CALGARY, AB - JULY 28:  Alexander Hernandez poses for a portrait backstage after his victory over Olivier Aubin-Mercier during the UFC Fight Night event at Scotiabank Saddledome on July 28, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

"Hard words are very rarely useful. Real firmness is good for every thing. Strut is good for nothing."

As it turns out, that famous quote from Alexander Hamilton applies to another Alexander H—the UFC's up-and-coming lightweight prospect, Alexander Hernandez. The 10-1 contender steps back inside the Octagon on Saturday with a golden opportunity to break out and be a star for the organization.

When the 26-year-old stepped up to fight Beneil Dariush in March last year, he was largely an unknown coming in to fight one of the world's best. Dariush was ranked No. 12 at the time, and Hernandez put a stamp on his UFC debut with a brutal knockout in 42 seconds.

Hernandez's post-fight interview with Joe Rogan was vibrant. He talked about creating a legacy and putting on a violent performance to kick off his UFC career. He was captivating, but it wasn't ego. It wasn't laden with platitudes or histrionics: It was from the heart.

After a follow-up victory over Olivier Aubin-Mercier at UFC on Fox 30, Hernandez moved to No. 11 in the official UFC rankings. However, he is still waiting to break through to the next level of stardom.

The lightweight division is jam-packed with talent and it has a muddied title picture, but that also means there are ample big-time fights awaiting anyone who makes it to the upper echelon. Hernandez sits on the precipice of obtaining those marquee bouts—one big performance on a lofty platform away from a bigger paycheck.

Donald Cerrone is one of the UFC's most consistent fighters and one of the fan favorites in all of the organization. And his presence, along with Hernandez's rising stock, landed them as the featured preliminary contest of the UFC's first live event at their new home, ESPN.

Cowboy's style will give Hernandez the chance to shine. Cerrone is known for excitement and will continually come forward looking to get into exchanges. It is the type of fight that sets up both men with chances to collect performance bonuses, and Hernandez gets a perfect foil to make himself look like the star he wants to be.

The main card is slated for the broadcaster's burgeoning streaming service ESPN+, but the preliminary card is on ESPN proper. That is what makes this fight so big for all parties but none more so than Hernandez.

The UFC and ESPN will attempt to make a splash with the first live event, and banking on Hernandez vs. Cerrone to lead them into the streaming portion of the show is an honor that comes with a lot of pressure and opportunity.

There is a chance this could be one of the biggest UFC events on cable in years. It's a prime spot for Hernandez to not only get a signature win but also to jump into the title picture.

More eyes, especially those of new viewers, will be on the UFC this weekend, and ESPN's platform could send Hernandez off like a rocket.

The most important piece to the puzzle of becoming a bankable member of the roster is performance. As he showed against Dariush, Hernandez has the talent to electrify a crowd. If he is able to oust Cerrone in a memorable way, then fans will clamor to see more of him in 2019.

Israel Adesanya was the breakout star in 2018 after four impressive outings. Will Hernandez take advantage of his golden moment to be 2019's breakthrough fighter?

He said he was building a legacy that was bigger than himself after his first UFC victory. This is the next stone in the structure of that legacy.

The UFC has teed him up, and now it's time to see how Hernandez responds when the pressure is on his shoulders.

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