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With ‘unpredictable’ landscape, Irene Aldana understands title contention is on the line at UFC on ESPN 4

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Irene Aldana
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Irene Aldana knows gold is close.

The Guadalajara native’s latest streak has placed her among the top-10 best fighters in the UFC women’s bantamweight division and has her preparing for recent title challenger Raquel Pennington. Aldana is set to face the fifth-ranked contender on July 20 at UFC San Antonio (UFC on ESPN 4).

Pennington is the highest-ranked fighter Aldana has been booked against in her young UFC career. And with consecutive wins over Talita Bernardo, Lucie Pudilova, and most recently Bethe Correia, the Lobo Gym product understands very well the kind of implications a fourth straight win over a highly ranked opponent would bring to her career.

“Up to this point, this is the most important fight I’ve had,” Aldana told MMA Fighting. “As I go on, the opposition I’m going to get is going to get tougher and the competition is going to be stronger. With Raquel being a recent title challenger and having fought Germaine (de Randamie) (who’s ranked third in the division) and she’s ranked in the top five of the division, I do think this is a great opportunity to break into the top five and have an opportunity to fight for the belt. I’m in no hurry. I don’t think this is something I need to do now or never, but if the opportunity is there, why not take it.

“It’ll depend a lot on the UFC, I’m not sure what they have in mind, but it definitely puts me in the line for the title. I don’t know if I’ll get it immediately, I don’t think so, but maybe one or two more fights after that and I could be fighting for the belt.”

Even a dominant win over Pennington won’t necessarily translate into an immediate crack at the belt for Aldana, considering higher ranked contenders such as Ketlen Vieira and Germaine de Randamie are also enjoying win streaks of their own.

Yet, with the UFC’s busy schedule and expansion into new markets, the No. 1 contender of the division isn’t always the next onefor the champion. Aldana understands that as well.

“From this point on I’m preparing as if I’m fighting for the title,” Aldana explained. “Even though I have a fight with Raquel, I’m getting ready for a championship fight. I take this fight seriously because I know that at any moment fights can fall through and they can call me. It’s very unpredictable, so right now I’m training with that mentality.”

“Robles” is no stranger to contesting for a world titles having fought in championship bouts for Invicta FC and Jungle Fight – one of Brazil’s most competitive MMA promotions. But it’s undeniable that title contention in the world’s leading MMA organization is far more difficult. Aldana’s UFC career is a testament to that.

The Mexican striker built her current streak off consecutive loses to Leslie Smith and Katlyn Chookagian, which kicked off her journey in the UFC. Despite dealing with the detriments of defeats, Aldana used the losses as fuel in her recent success.

“It definitely wasn’t the start that I wanted and it was very disappointing,” Aldana said. “But I thought of where I wanted to go and I definitely didn’t want to just get to that point. I didn’t come this far to just lose and quit. So I do think it made me stronger mentally and I think it made me want to train even harder.

“I honestly thought my second fight against Katlyn Chookagian was very close and I thought I won it by a little. But the decision went the other way and those things happen in the sport. It was a tough pill to swallow, but it changed my mentality. I wasn’t going to approach it [fighting] with the fear of potentially losing anymore, just going in there to enjoy and showcase my work. I used to stress a lot before fights, but now I'm more relaxed and now I enjoy it more.”