The next big thing is a tag that many mixed martial artists have been saddled with early in their careers. Some have lived up to the billing, while some have crumbled under the pressure that comes with that label.
When it comes to 23-year-old UFC welterweight Rory MacDonald, fans and pundits have kicked things up a notch, labeling the 13-1 fighter the next Georges St-Pierre. You know, just in case the pressure of being the next big thing wasn’t enough.
MacDonald will look to take the next step up the welterweight ladder when he faces former UFC champion BJ Penn on December 8, in a fight that was interesting enough to bring Penn out of retirement.
Expectations are high for MacDonald, a fighter whose only loss came at the hands of Carlos Condit in a “Fight of the Night” performance back in June 2010. Since then MacDonald has gone 3-0.
As for the fight against Penn, UFC president Dana White sees this matchup as the toughest test of MacDonald’s career. “There’s a lot of hype behind him (MacDonald), a lot of people that I respect in the business say good things about him," White said. "I think this is a big fight for Rory. I think BJ is going to be a big test for him.”
If MacDonald is worried about the coming test, those concerns have not been evident in the days leading up to the fight. In fact, if he wanted some help with the test, he could have asked training partner Georges St-Pierre, a man who fought and defeated Penn twice in the past, but MacDonald said he hasn’t broached the subject with the welterweight champion:
I didn’t really ask him anything. I watched it (St-Pierre vs. Penn). I’m not the kind of guy that wants to know everything about somebody, I really don’t care. For all I know BJ could have completely changed his training and maybe he’s a Muay Thai fighter now, who knows. I don’t really care. I just get better as a fighter, as a martial artist; I really don’t care about the past.
The fact that MacDonald does not care about the past indicates that he’s always looking forward, always looking to move on to the next set of challenges. One of the things MacDonald is focusing on is setting himself up to be more active come 2013.
The last time MacDonald fought more than twice in a calendar year was 2006, when he racked up four fights between February and November. If he has his way, he’ll be back on that grind following his bout with Penn:
After this fight with BJ, I’m pretty much ready to fight March 8. As long as I keep my weight in check, it won’t be a problem for me to make 170 on short notice. I’m pretty much ready to go all the time now. How I’ve kind of changed things up as far as my training, I think it’s going to work well with me fighting a lot more.
When asked about the types of changes he has made in his training, MacDonald indicated that it was mostly staying healthy and being smarter about the way he prepares on a day-to-day basis:
Before I never took days off, even if I was hurt. When I feel like I’m breaking down a little bit, like my body’s breaking down, I just take a day off or I just adjust it. If I’m sparring and I mess up, I’ll go swim or something, I’ll just adjust in that kind of fashion. It’s been keeping me healthy and for me, health is most important. I know how to fight; all I really need is my health. If I’m healthy I can fight on a minutes notice.
MacDonald has had far more than a minute's notice to prepare for Penn. In fact, he was originally set to face Penn on September 22, but MacDonald sustained a nasty cut during training, which forced the fight to be rescheduled to December 8—the day we will find out if he is able to pass the test Penn will have for him.
Note: All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R MMA.