Mixed martial arts is a sport filled with interesting paradoxes. Many consider MMA to be a young man's game, but at the same time, experience inside the cage is regarded as one of the most valuable assets a fighter can possess. It is an ever-evolving craft where the the expansion of skill is crucial, and while fighters must progress in order to keep pace, they must also stay true to the core discipline which set their career motion.
A decade ago, fighters who were able to branch off from their original strengths quickly rose to the top of the sport. Things are much different in today's game, as a well-rounded skill set is a necessity for fighters looking to be competitive. The changing tides have opened the doors for a new breed of fighter to emerge, and surging welterweight Rory MacDonald is leading the charge.
The 23-year-old British Columbia native has used a unique blend of wrestling and brutal ground and pound to become one of the UFC's most touted prospects. With victories in four of his five Octagon showings and impressive performances against Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills, "Ares" has positioned himself on the doorstep of the welterweight division's upper tier.
In order for the Tri-Star product to cross over from prospect to contender, he will need a definitive win against a high-profile opponent. It is a step MacDonald has been longing to take, and that opportunity will come front and center next Saturday night when he faces former two-divisional champion B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle WA,.
"The Prodigy" represents the young Canadian's biggest challenge to date. Should he find success against the MMA legend, MacDonald will firmly plant himself amongst the best in the weight class.
Early Success and Lessons Learned
After earning nine consecutive victories on the regional scene, complete with a King of the Cage title, MacDonald made his UFC debut in January of 2010. In his initial showing inside the Octagon, he squared off with veteran Mike Guymon. After getting dropped in the early goings of the bout, MacDonald was able to regain his footing and submitted "Joker" with an armbar late in the first round.
Earning a victory on the sport's biggest stage provided a boost of confidence as MacDonald made a proper introduction to the UFC fanbase.
The next challenge would take place on his home turf of Vancouver, British Columbia, as he stepped in against former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 115. From the opening bell MacDonald jumped out to an impressive start as he imposed his will on "The Natural Born Killer," using his wrestling advantage to put Condit on the canvas.
After two rounds MacDonald found himself in control of the fight, but the Albuquerque native cranked up the intensity in the final frame. Condit's attack eventually overwhelmed a fading MacDonald as he pounded out the stoppage victory in the final seconds of the bout.
Despite both men earning "Fight of the Night" honors and the battle being one of the year's best, the loss was a tough pill for the Canadian to swallow. It was the first setback of MacDonald's career, and it provided added motivation for him to get back on track in his next outing. That opportunity would come against Stockton "badboy" Nate Diaz at UFC 129, and MacDonald was eager to find redemption.
The Waterboy No More; Enter the God of War
While there was a buzz building around MacDonald for his performance in the Condit fight, the loss ultimately left a bad taste in his mouth. In order to get things back on track, he would need a strong showing against Diaz in Toronto, and MacDonald wasted no time getting down to business.
Over three rounds he out-worked, out-muscled, and simply out-classed the Season 5 The Ultimate Fighter winner in route to a lopsided decision victory. It wasn't the first time the younger Diaz had been defeated inside the Octagon, but the fashion in which the Caesar Gracie-trained fighter was dominated, cemented MacDonald as a fighter to watch in the welterweight ranks.
His performance created a sense that change was coming to the 170-pound weight class. For his next bout with veteran Mike Pyle, MacDonald instituted some change of his own.
Up until that point of his mixed martial arts career, MacDonald had carried a nickname he wasn't all too fond of. With his game rapidly developing and his career switching gears, he decided to drop "The Waterboy" tag and took up a moniker he felt was better suited for his fighting style.
When MacDonald stepped in against Pyle at UFC 133, he did so as "Ares," and the performance which followed bolstered the decision. MacDonald landed a huge shot with Pyle on the canvas and proceeded to pound out the Xtreme Couture fighter in route to a TKO victory.
Following his win over Pyle, MacDonald suffered an injury that would put him on the shelf for the next eight months. When he was cleared to return, he did so against Che Mills in the co-main event of UFC 145 in Atlanta, and it didn't take long for MacDonald to return to form.
After taking a handful of shots in the opening exchanges, MacDonald was able to put Mills on his back and wasted no time getting to work. With a brutal form of ground and pound that has become his signature, MacDonald thrashed Mills from top position as he bloodied the British striker for the rest of the opening round.
When the second frame got underway, it was more of the same as MacDonald once again put Mills on the deck and dropped hammers from the top. With each shot doing heavy damage, Mills eventually folded in the middle of the round, and MacDonald earned his third consecutive victory.
Creating His Own Path
Over the past two years, MacDonald's stock has steadily risen in the UFC. With each victory comes more acclaim, and the manner in which he's handled the increase in popularity has been an interesting study.
The current trend of endless self-promotion and constant trash-talking blazing through mixed martial arts appears to be something MacDonald chooses to avoid at every turn. Even when he does get involved in the occasional Twitter feud, he does so in a minimalist fashion that leads you to believe he could truly care less.
When asked about the rankings and things of that nature, MacDonald speaks in a tone that reveals his annoyance with the idea a fighter would have to verbally sell you on his skills rather than prove his talents inside of the cage. It is a refreshing perspective from a fighter who could easily be singing his own praises any time a mic or recorder is placed before him.
Fighting is what matters to MacDonald and everything outside of that subject is simple "everything else."
This is also a category where he places all the talk about Tri-Star teammate and welterweight king Georges St. Pierre. If MacDonald is not being asked about a potential show down with GSP further down the road, he is being asked about St. Pierre's influence on his training for the upcoming Penn fight. When the questions arise, MacDonald's already stoic demeanor hardens, and he passes through the inquiry without providing any specific details.
If there is anything obvious about MacDonald outside of his talent, it is desire to create his own path through the sport. There has never been a lack of respect or appreciation on his behalf towards his team at Tri-Star, but MacDonald is intent on forging ahead on his own unique journey.
While his performance against Penn will undoubtedly be compared to St. Pierre's two dust-ups with the Hawaiian, the fight next Saturday night is a necessary step in the right direction.
MacDonald is still working his way through the rankings and defining who he is as a fighter. It is his goal to become the best welterweight in the world. While that destination may rest further out on the horizon, defeating Penn brings him that much closer to everything he wants to be.
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