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Yair Rodriguez not assuming anything: 'There's a lot of things that need to happen in order for me to get to the title shot'

UFC on ABC 3 headliner expected to serve as No. 1 contender fight, but 'El Pantera' not looking ahead.

As the No. 3 featherweight in the world according to the UFC's official rankings, Yair Rodriguez knows he's nearing the title shot he's been seeking during his eight years with the company. But with a dangerous opponent in Brian Ortega awaiting him on Saturday, Rodriguez says he's not letting himself spend one moment concerning himself with current champ Alexander Volkanovski.

"I'm not thinking about that," Rodriguez told MMA Underground. "Of course, it's something that is on my mind that it can happen, you know? But first, if anything ... I have to be there on Saturday. I need to win this fight. 

"There's a lot of things that need to happen in order for me to get to the title shot. Volkanovski will probably make some decisions that can affect it, too, so there's nothing in my hands right now. What's in my hands right now is ... making it to the fight Saturday, and that's what I can do."

Rodriguez (13-3 MMA, 8-1 UFC) and Ortega (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) meet in the headlining bout of Saturday's UFC on ABC 3 event, which airs on ABC (2 p.m. ET) and streams on ESPN+ from UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y.

With Ortega ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds, the matchup is incredibly significant in terms of potential title shots, though with reigning champ Volkanovski currently sidelined with a hand injury suffered in his UFC 276 win over Max Holloway earlier this month – not to mention his recent suggestion that a move up to 155 pounds to try and gain a second belt could lie in his future – nothing is absolutely certain for the winner.

Still, Rodriguez knows there's a chance victory would bring him a shot at the belt, so he's hoping to win as cleanly as possible and keep himself from the lengthy layoffs that have previously slowed his ascent up the rankings.

"I know it's going to be a tight fight," Rodriguez said. "What I would like the fight to be is I want to get out of there as quick as possible, you know, but with a positive result for me because I don't want to take too much damage. 

"I have been through some wars. I mean, I know I can take it. There is no question about that, and you guys know that, but I don't want to take too much injuries and pain because it takes me months after to recover from some of my fights. My feet are swollen, and I'm always on crutches after my fights. It gets really, really tough, you know, and nobody's there. I'm the only one dealing with the pain and all that, so it's not easy, you know? So I'm trying to get out of there as soon as possible with a positive result, and that's it."

Rodriguez knows that's easier said than done against an opponent like Ortega, who has been through his share of wars, as well – especially with "T-City" saying he's hoping for the fight to be an all-time classic along the lines of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales' legendary boxing trilogy.

"I'm sure it's going to be a war," Rodriguez said. "You shouldn't have a question about that. You know, what I'm expecting and what I want – what I really want is to get out of there as quickly as possible, but there's no question that it's going to be a war because Brian Ortega is not a piece of cake. He's a tough guy. He's a tough dude. He doesn't go down easy, so I'm sure he's going to be a war."

Volkanovski will surely be watching closely on Saturday as he plots his next move, and an impressive Rodriguez win would likely get the 29-year-old Mexican a crack at the featherweight belt. But for now, Rodriguez said the task at hand is too important to let himself ponder what might come next.

"Right now, I feel real good, actually," Rodriguez said. "I feel happy for this opportunity that I have. The UFC is putting me again on the big screen, this time on a big network and headlining an event here in New York, so it's pretty amazing. It's pretty good for me."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.