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Despite emotional roller coaster, Irene Aldana enjoying the journey to first UFC main event

Irene Aldana has been through plenty in the lead up to her next UFC fight.

The bantamweight contender headlines a UFC event for the first time in her eight-year career Saturday at UFC on ESPN 16. Aldana takes on a former bantamweight champion, and one of the biggest names in women’s MMA in Holly Holm in a five-round contest. The event goes down in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Aldana (12-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) was originally scheduled to fight Holm (13-5 MMA, 6-5 UFC) on Aug. 1 at UFC on ESPN+ 31, but the bout ended up being postponed when the Mexican fighter tested positive for COVID-19.

“At first it was tough when I was just recovering from the virus, when I started training again,” Aldana said on Monday’s episode of “Hablemos MMA.” “It was difficult because I would get tired very quick. It seemed the virus left lingering effects. Even though I was negative, I would feel fatigued. Maybe I wasn’t 100 percent, but that only lasted a week-and-a-half, two weeks, and then my body was back to normal.

“I started feeling much better and my body was responding well. I had a very complete training camp, and I was able to do it 100 percent. It was hard, and well done in all areas. I’m 100 percent ready for the fight.”

Aldana had a little over two months to get back in top shape after testing positive for COVID-19 in late July.

“Robles” was mainly training from her home in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the lead up to the Aug. 1 event. The postponement to Oct. 3 allowed Aldana to return to Lobo Gym, where she trained exclusively with her team and remained closed to the public.

The change in dates also brought a bigger platform for her pivotal bout with Holm, as she’s now fighting on ESPN and not just the ESPN streaming platform ESPN+.

“The fight is much bigger (now on ESPN) and also because it’s happening in Abu Dhabi, so there’s more attention,” Aldana said. “And yeah, I think it’s very interesting and very exciting that more people will be watching the event.”

Aldana makes history on Saturday night as the first Mexican female to headline a UFC event. The significance of the moment paired with fighting one of the biggest names in women’s MMA history has certainly brought many feelings to Aldana in the lead up to UFC on ESPN 16.

“I feel all kinds of things,” Aldana said. “It truly is a roller coaster being in this sport. You can have many fights, but you will always experience the nerves, the butterflies in the stomach.

“Each time I control it better and I enjoy it more. Like I said, I feel all kinds of things. I can be nervous in one moment, and five minutes later I’m excited and happy, but then I get nervous again. That’s how it goes. It’s very strange. This sport makes you feel a lot of adrenaline and it makes you feel many things. Nerves will always exist. You’re nervous about things maybe not working out the way you want them to and anything that could go wrong.

“But to be honest, I’m really enjoying all of it and all the process. I’m enjoying the travel, the fight week and all that. So yeah, the fact that it’s my first main event in the UFC, it’s something big on a personal level and for my career, so I’m making the most of it.”

UFC president Dana White previously said if Aldana were victorious, she would likely challenge two-division champion Amanda Nunes for her 135-pound title. Many other experts and fans are also pitting the bout as a No. 1 contender fight in the division.

Aldana is well aware of the implications a win could bring to her career, but she’s not letting the title chatter stray her focus on the task at hand.

“I’m very aware that this fight will open the doors so that my next bout could be for the title,” Aldana said. “However,  I don’t like to get ahead and accelerate things.

“At the moment, I’m very focused on the fight, very focused on Holly Holm. Once I win the fight, then I will focus on the title fight. But I know that this is definitely an opportunity that will take me to the title, but I’m focusing on Holly Holm.”

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