Juan Adams doesn't set goals too far into the future. In 2016, when he began training in martial arts full time, his only goal was to make it to the UFC. Ever since he signed with the promotion two years later, his only goal has been to stay there. At 27 years old, Adams is not thinking about titles. He isn't thinking about ranked opponents. He just wants to keep his job.
Adams is 1-1 in the UFC, and he recognizes that if he loses on Saturday, his roster spot will not be guaranteed. Nothing is being handed to him. He has to earn everything.
This is why he hates Greg Hardy.
Hardy, whom Adams will fight at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in San Antonio, got to the UFC not by stellar performances on the regional MMA circuit but on the basis of NFL stardom and controversy. Yet he is the man who can help decide whether Adams has long-term financial stability as a fighter. That irks Adams.
"My whole life, I've lived the straight and narrow. I've done things by the book," Adams said. "And he's over here getting arrested for cocaine and domestic violence. The more attention he's received in this sport, the more upset it's made me."
Adams (5-1) will get his chance to right those perceived wrongs when he meets the one-time Pro Bowl defensive end, who last played in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. Hardy has since taken up mixed martial arts and is 4-1 as a professional and 1-1 in the UFC.
Hardy was a heavy favorite in his first two UFC fights, a disqualification loss to Allen Crowder for an illegal knee on Jan. 19 and a first-round TKO of Dmitrii Smoliakov on April 27. Saturday's heavyweight meeting with Adams is virtually a pick 'em fight at Caesars, with Adams a slight favorite at -120 and Hardy at -110.
On Monday, during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, Hardy was asked if Adams will be the toughest test of his nascent UFC career. He shrugged.
"It's a bigger opponent," Hardy said. "I think it's a good test. I wouldn't say the toughest so far."
Hardy says he hasn't been paying attention to Adams' criticism.
"Whatever he needs to do to sell the fight on his end," Hardy said. "If he would have said something about my fight style, being able to beat me, this, that or the other, that would have been worth addressing. But just the little barbs show that he's a rookie, he's a child. That doesn't affect me. I'm a superstar. I don't address things like that."
The UFC has looked past Hardy's checkered past and lack of MMA experience. He made his professional debut on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2018 and has co-headlined two UFC events this year. White, the UFC president, has repeatedly said that Hardy has turned his life around.
"If you talk to anybody that he trains with -- male or female -- they say that he's a very good guy. He's very humble," White said at a news conference ahead of Hardy's Contender Series debut. "Everybody deserves a second chance. The guy was never charged with anything. He was never sentenced. I'm going to give him a shot."
Hardy was, in fact, charged and convicted in 2014 of assaulting a woman and communicating threats, though both charges were expunged from his record on appeal when the woman could not be located to testify. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge in 2016.
Adams has been calling out Hardy publicly for more than a year. He is fond of using a social media hashtag "#f---GregHardy" and has referred to him as a "f---ing clown."
Adams says his biggest issue is the advantages Hardy has enjoyed early in his career. Adams now has an opportunity to build his own name in MMA off the fame of Hardy.
Plus, Adams has a story of his own to tell fans. He played football in high school and was pretty good at it. But he never quite fell in love with the sport. Adams did fall in love with wrestling, though, and earned a scholarship to Division I Virginia Military Institute. He graduated from VMI in 2015 and immediately returned home to Houston to care for his mother. She died on June 30, 2015, after a lengthy battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It was the toughest period of Adams' life.
Adams was at a loss for what to do next. He had a degree in computer science, but he didn't feel drawn to a career in that field. He coached a little wrestling at a local MMA gym throughout college, and that led him to take occasional kickboxing classes. He eventually became aware that he had the potential to become a professional fighter. He had to decide if he was all-in. For Adams, MMA was his last shot to avoid what he calls a "normal job." Until a year ago, he was working as a loan officer at a bank. He was an Uber driver for a while and did some work as a bouncer. He prefers fighting professionals in the UFC over aggressive drunks in the Houston nightlife.
Adams has certainly launched a lot of verbal warfare ahead of Saturday's fight. And he's really the first of Hardy's opponents to do so. That extra talk might have created more pressure to perform, Adams says, were it not for one simple fact: In his mind, Hardy is just not very good.
"The way I see it, I am so much better than him. There is no pressure," Adams said. "Numbers don't lie. I land more strikes. I'm more accurate. He's been fighting people who are scared to hit him. My level of opponent has been quantitatively better than his, and that will show in the fight."