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For Juan Adams, taking out Greg Hardy is both personal and professional

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Milwaukee-De La Rocha vs Adams Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, Juan Adams got what he wanted. Before he was in the UFC, before Greg Hardy was in the UFC, Adams was calling for a match between them. For Adams, the callout is professional, sure, but it’s also personal. He can still remember being just six years old and standing there helplessly as his mother’s boyfriend crossed the line you can never come back from, putting his hands on her. “That moment, it’s not something you ever really recover from,” he told MMA Fighting. “That hits close to home.”

It’s a moment that echoes, even now that he’s grown into a hulking 6-foot-5, 300-pound athlete. Some things always remain with us. For Adams, two of those things have always been honor and propriety. He was an Eagle Scout, he graduated from Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, a top Houston high school. He went on to matriculate at the prestigious Virginia Military Institute, graduating with a degree in computer science while competing on its Division I wrestling team. He worked multiple jobs simultaneously while chasing his MMA dream.

“I’ve gone my whole life doing the right thing, trying to excel,” he said. “I had to go down a much harder path to get where I am than [Hardy] did. I really don’t like the man. Hate is a strong word, but it’s close to that.”

Growing up, Adams seemed like a long shot to get here, to the bright lights of an Octagon. As a kid, he was mostly into football, basketball and track. As a high school freshman, he was just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. Upon realizing he wasn’t going to make the varsity basketball team, Adams debated giving another sport a try. A self-described “weird kid,” Adams said he was frequently picked on. And some of those incidents escalated into fights.

“I figured, why not do something to help me fight better?” he said. He chose wrestling. Adams said he wasn’t a natural, but was strong and could move well. Moreover, he had a key trait found in all successful wrestlers — tenacity. He worked and worked at improving.

Meanwhile, he continued with football, ultimately growing past six feet and over 200 pounds. Heading into his senior year, he figured he had a realistic shot at a collegiate football scholarship. However, in the first game of the season he broke his hand. (His replacement, Pace Murphy, is a current member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.) With his football hopes dashed, he turned back to wrestling.

Despite 53 wins in his senior season, Adams only received one Division I wrestling offer, from VMI. When he made his recruiting visit to the Lexington, Virginia campus, Adams was unfamiliar with the school’s regimented approach, and in fact, was told that as an athlete, he would have special privileges, such as being able to avoid the school’s infamous “Rat Line” — a strict and grueling training regimen designed to test new cadets both physically and mentally.

“I got there and I was horribly mistaken and horribly surprised,” he said. “But once I started, it’s not in me to quit. I agreed to go there. I told my mom, my family, my coach, all of them, that I was going to stick it out. And I honored my commitment. And by the time it came around, I ended up staying an extra year because my coach asked me, just to help my team.”

By his final year though, Adams knew he was unlikely to use his computer science degree in his post-graduate life. By then, he had already dipped his toe in the MMA waters. Between his sophomore and junior years, he’d returned home to Houston and visited Paradigm Training Center, offering his services as a wrestling coach in exchange for a gym membership. A deal was struck.

Adams thought his future was not in MMA, but in coaching, something he’d grown passionate about over time. But given his size — at this point, he’d grown to 6-foot-5 and over 300 pounds — he was implored by friends and advisers to give professional athletics a try.

Upon graduation, he received NFL tryouts with the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Lining up as a defensive lineman, he put up numbers that would have interested many scouts. According to Adams, at 318 pounds, he ran a 4.9 for the 40-yard dash, benched 225 pounds over 30 times, and squatted close to 700 pounds. While the experience didn’t result in any offers, he met several professional athletes in the process, igniting his interest in continue to pursue athletics.

Continuing his training at Paradigm, in September 2016, he took his first amateur fight, knocking out Jordan Zendejas in the second round.

“After my first amateur fight I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living,” he said. “At that point, I started talking the steps necessary to be successful at it.”

Adams reeled off seven consecutive wins, all by stoppage, in the amateur and pro ranks before going all-in prior to his third professional fight, quitting his job as a bank loan coordinator to concentrate on the opportunity at hand — a chance to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series. At that point, Adams had only been competing for less than two years. He knocked out Shawn Teed in just 4:17 and received an invitation to the UFC.

Now 1-1 in the UFC (and 5-1 overall), Adams will be stepping into a major spotlight for the first time. For better or worse, Hardy’s infamy brings with it mainstream media attention.

Adams does not think that Hardy has done anything positive to warrant any inclusion on a prospect list. In his opinion, the former NFL star has never beaten anyone of note or done anything to raise an eyebrow of an educated viewer.

“I see a right hand and that’s about it,” he said. “No gas tank. He doesn’t have the cardio, he doesn’t have any sense of wrestling, he can’t throw kicks very well. He’s just a right hand. That’s all he’s got.”

Adams knows that by his own words, he’s ratcheted up the pressure on himself. It’s just him being him, the same way he was when he fought Arjan Bhullar. Prior to that, he’d made some headlines for downplaying Bhullar’s Olympic wrestling bona fides. Bhullar went on to win the fight in a disputable unanimous decision, but that’s where honor comes back into play. Adams says he will always live and die by his words, and accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

Against Hardy, there will definitely be stakes and attention, and Adams has the chance to leave the scene either eating his words, or as a breakout fighter. Those are both possible scenarios. But to him, that’s the big picture. He’s zoomed in on the micro, a single opponent, a single opportunity that he has wished for over the last however many months, ever since Greg Hardy floated into his orbit.

“I want a doctor stoppage for injury for him,” he said. “That’s my ideal ending to this. I want to break ribs, arms, arms, whatever. I want him to be hurt. I want him to reevaluate his career.”

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