The last time that Rory MacDonald graced the octagon with his heavy-handed presence, the top-ranked welterweight contender was favored to take the UFC’s 170-pound crown from current king Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 in July of 2015.
But despite battling Lawler for more than 20 crowd-pleasing minutes, MacDonald was left with nothing more than a shattered nose, broken right foot, and a six-month medical suspension after suffering a fifth-round, knockout loss to the late-blooming champion.
While MacDonald is still considered as the top threat to Lawler’s reign, a lot can change in 11 months. And at Saturday night’s 170-pound showdown with second-ranked Steven ”Wonderboy” Thompson in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night Ottawa, MacDonald will enter the octagon with everything on the line.
Since MacDonald joined MMA’s top promotion in January of 2010, a submission-loss to longtime contender Carlos Condit in his second octagon appearance and a pair of soul-crushing losses to Lawler stand as the only blemishes on an-otherwise spotless UFC resume.
Even without a UFC title in his past, welterweight wins over career contenders such as Nate Diaz, BJ Penn, Jake Ellenberger, Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley, and Tarec Saffiedine have made MacDonald one of the division’s most accomplished competitors.
But that second loss to Lawler has forced MacDonald to walk a very thin line between earning an unlikely third shot at the division’s current king and subsequently, another opportunity to win the welterweight belt, and a Urijah Faber-like existence that only ends when someone else accomplishes what the Canadian couldn’t.
Despite that sobering reality, MacDonald recently told Fox Sports that he thinks his war with Lawler is far from over.
”I wouldn’t be surprised at all if me and Robbie fight another couple of times. I really don’t know how much time he has left in his career, but I know I have many fights left at the top of the sport,” said the 26-year-old Canadian contender. ”If he’s still around in a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we fight multiple times.”
With stakes at an all-time high, MacDonald’s decision to take some time off following last summer’s loss to Lawler may not have been the best idea—Jon Jones wasn’t exactly at his best against Ovince Saint Preux after his 14-month hiatus. However, MacDonald recently sat down with Fox Sports to explain how he’s benefited from the break.
”Basically it’s just been getting better at martial arts,” said MacDonald. ”I’ve been working at a lot of my weaknesses and making a lot of improvements and I think that’s really going to show in this next fight.”
”Things that I learned and addressed in my training. I think that’s what’s going to make the difference going forward. I feel that I’ve made the corrections in training from that fight [last July’s loss to Lawler] and I also gained a lot of experience in that fight so I feel that’s going to pay off as well,” added MacDonald.
Judging by what Thompson has done to become the division’s hottest contender, MacDonald will need every ounce of that added experience and training.
Coincidentally, Thompson also used a loss in his second octagon appearance to spark a career-altering romp through the rankings consisting of five straight victories including a trio of knockout-wins. But ”The Wonderboy” didn’t officially earn his unofficial status as a threat to Lawler’s throne until he knocked-out former 170-pound ruler Johnny Hendricks in the opening round of their fight in February.
A former kickboxing champion who’s actually trained with MacDonald and George St. Pierre at Montreal’s TriStar Gym in the past, Thompson operates with Anderson Silva-like elusiveness on his feet, and thanks to countless hours of work with former UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman, he’s not a one-dimensional opponent who can be beaten with a mediocre ground-game.
Shared history aside, MacDonald obviously recognizes the significance of Saturday’s tilt with Thompson and what a win over ”The Wonderboy” would do for his title hopes. Not surprisingly, the Canuck told Fox Sports that he essentially jumped at the chance to face such a qualified contender.
”Right away, I thought it was an exciting fight. I was happy to accept,” said MacDonald. ”I know we go back a bit and have been friendly over the years, but when you get into the top five of a division, it’s to be expected the possibility that you’re going to fight each other. So I wasn’t really surprised. I think it’s a great matchup and it’s going to be exciting for the fans and it’s going to be a great fight for me and my career.”
When St. Pierre walked away from the world of MMA by announcing his retirement immediately following his November 2013 win over Hendricks, everyone thought that the welterweight torch would be passed to MacDonald. But that same night, Lawler ruined those plans by defeating his Canadian colleague for the first time.
Now, more than two-and-a-half years later, a second loss to Lawler has forced MacDonald to walk a very precarious path. And unless he’s able to extinguish Thompson’s own title hopes with a win in front of his fellow countrymen, MacDonald will become an over-qualified contender with next to no hope of another title shot during the current king’s reign.
[Photo By-Derek Leung/Getty Images]