Rising welterweight Rory MacDonald is getting ready to take a step up this Saturday night when he faces fighting legend B.J. Penn in a contender fight and the most important fight of his career.
Immediately following his destruction of Che Mills, many were calling for MacDonald to get a tougher opponent in his next fight, and although Penn is on the downside of his career, he is that step up for the Canadian.
MacDonald has garnered a lot of hype due to his young age, elite game, prominent camp and training partners. The hype is somewhat warranted, but he has only faced one of the elite in the UFC, and that was Carlos Condit, who handed him the only loss of his career.
MacDonald is currently 4-1 in the UFC with dominant wins over Mike Guyman, Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills.
Do wins over these names warrant the boasting that has come from MacDonald leading into this fight?
This fight was supposed to happen in September in Toronto until a bad cut kept MacDonald out. Both men are chomping at the bit to get at each other. We have seen a different, more assertive MacDonald in the lead-up, making bold statements and disrespecting the Hawaiian legend.
MacDonald has bordered on cocky and overconfident in his statements (courtesy Sportsnet.ca), and now the spotlight and pressure have been amped up. MacDonald will not be given any sympathy if he somehow loses to Penn; he will be seen as the cocky kid who spoke too soon and didn't back it up in the cage.
MacDonald knows that and, quite frankly, doesn't care what anybody thinks. He is fighting for himself, to get to the very top of the division.
He has already stated, as have many, that he is a future champion in the UFC, and we have seen what bold predictions can lead to in the past—right, Brandon Vera?
No matter what happens on Saturday night, MacDonald is a marked man in the welterweight division.
If MacDonald can use his immense size advantage to dominate and finish Penn, he will have proven himself to many in the sport and will sky-rocket into title contention with the likes of Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks and the man he wants more than anyone, Carlos Condit.
Many feel it is where he belongs already in his career, and a win on Saturday would prove it while backing up all his pre-fight bravado.
If he loses, MacDonald will have to eat up one of the biggest pieces of humble pie in the history of the UFC. He will look like a chump. It will also set him back a year in his career, as he will then need to spend most of 2013 climbing back to his place in the division.
It is, without a doubt, the most important fight of his career.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA and guest blogger for Sportsnet.ca UFC.