When the next wave of mixed martial artists or future superstars are mentioned, Rory MacDonald's name will be found at the top of the list.
The Tri-Star fighter has steamrolled his way through one of the UFC's most competitive divisions and in the process of doing so, raised his stock in the 170-pound weight class.
While a higher profile and acclaim may be things most fighters pursue, the 23-year-old MacDonald doesn't concern himself with those matters. His only focus is continued improvement inside the cage and everything else outside of his personal evolution is dismissed.
On Saturday night MacDonald will step in against former two-divisional champion B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle WA,. The matchup is one of the most anticipated bouts on a stacked Fox card.
Despite the biggest fight of his career against an MMA legend looming around the corner and taking place on a high profile Fox event, MacDonald remains stoic and unaffected by the increased attention.
"It doesn't matter," MacDonald said. "It means nothing to me. Zero. This fight could not even be televised and I wouldn't care."
"I'm not trying to be a legend or make a name for myself at this moment in time. I enjoy fighting and I think this is a great fight. I think B.J. is a great fighter and I have a lot of respect for him. Fighting a guy as talented as him really excites me. I'm really not in this sport for status. I just like to fight."
"I'm just going to be myself in there. I really don't carry a new mindset for each new opponent I face. I just try to be me. If I beat him because of who I am and the way I practice—then great. If I don't, then he is the better man. I know everyone says this but I feel that I've improved a lot. I am going to be myself but people are going to see the improvements I have made."
When it comes to MacDonald's preparation for his bout with "The Prodigy," there is no better person to have in his corner than trainer Firas Zhabi. The Tri-Star leader has successfully game planned for Penn on two occasions as Zhabi's star pupil Georges St. Pierre has defeated the Hawaiian both times they squared off.
While the road to victory against Penn has previously been navigated, Zhabi doesn't discredit the difficulty of the task at hand.
"It always helps to know your opponent," Zhabi said. "It definitely helps but I wouldn't say it is easy. It is going to be a tough fight. It's an advantage to have been down that road but it's a tough road to go down. I know how tough it is. I've seen Georges fight him and the preparation that has gone into fighting B.J. Penn. He' s a tough guy and Rory is an extremely tough guy; that is why I'm so excited to see this fight."
"Rory has more surprises to show. He has done a lot of things in practice he hasn't been able to show in his fights. I think the surprises in this fight are going to come from Rory's end because there is so much unknown about him. He is relentless in his preparation. He is completely dedicated to performing. He's punching the clock, putting in the hours at the gym, and he reminds me a lot of the way Georges prepares."
Over the past two years MacDonald's momentum has been halted by injury on several occasions. He recently vocalized his intention to compete as often as possible, and heading into Seattle and the road beyond, his focus will be fixed on continuing his progression."
"That has always been the plan," MacDonald said about staying active. "I fought Nate Diaz and fought Mike Pyle a couple months later. I was scheduled to fight Brian Ebersole but had to withdraw because of a knee injury. Then I was matched up with Che [Mills] but that fight was pushed back because of issues with the card. After I fought Mills I had this fight scheduled with Penn a few months later but the eye injury happened."
"Those have been bumps in the road. It wasn't scheduled on my behalf to take that much time off. It is just the way it played out and I'm trying my best to eliminate those issues."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.