Rory MacDonald: How Would the Young Star Fare at Middleweight?

Matt Molgaard@MattmolgaardCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 21:  Rory MacDonald (top) punches Che Mills during their welterweight bout for UFC 145 at Philips Arena on April 21, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Rory is already a damn big welterweight. It’s been admitted by the man himself that flirting with the 200 pound mark isn’t a complete absurdity, and his wing span is pretty impressive for a 23 year old man who probably hasn’t quite completely filled out his frame. He’s a big dude.

Should welterweight, for one reason or another, not pan out for Rory MacDonald, middleweight is a very viable option. The kid’s big enough to contend at 185 pounds, and he appears powerful and skilled enough to do so as well. Still a bit unproven at the elite level of competition, MacDonald has some work to do, but to predict a successful migration to middleweight in the future doesn’t seem the greatest stretch of the imagination.

Of course, should Rory make such a decision, and should he make it any time in the next few years, he’s got some heavy hitters to contend with inside the Octagon. Think for a moment about potential matches with the top five of the division.

Chris Weidman is a hell of a wrestler, and he’s not afraid to throw blows and go toe-to-toe with heavy hitters. Mark Munoz will attest to the man’s power. Can Rory outmuscle and outwrestle a man of Weidman’s caliber? For that matter, can his gas tank hold up to the typically impressive aggression of Weidman?

With every fight Weidman gains confidence, and he’s becoming far more willing to settle into the pocket with opponents. A man who can wrestle, submit and strike is a dangerous dude, and I’m not wholly convinced Rory is prepared for that level of intensity at this stage of the game.

Take a look at Michael Bisping and you’re eyeing another man who has a style that could cause major problems for MacDonald. Bisping is the most mobile man in the division behind Anderson Silva, and Dan Henderson’s right hand has leant to Bisping’s willingness to think more defensively when the situation calls for it.

Michael’s a smart fighter who’s still improving, and his takedown defense and solid footwork would present plenty of problems for the young prospect.

Vitor Belfort, after a title shot trip at 205, is back at 185 pounds and although the man is already 35 years old, he’s paced his fighting career brilliantly, amassing only 31 fights in 16 years. 31 fights may be a solid amount of experience, but think about it for a minute: the man’s fought an average of less than two fights a year.

Vitor’s still got some juice left in the tank, and his lightning fast hands are a constant threat. Belfort is one Brazilian who shows up to bash heads, and he was gifted with the physical tools to do so. Could Rory survive the early onslaughts of Belfort, or would his chin be touched and cracked like so many before? That is a really tough question.

Tim Boetsch is widely regarded as a top five middleweight in the 185 pound division, and while I think he may be a bit behind most of the others who inhabit the top 5, he’s still a freakishly strong bull of a man who never quits. I see Rory out-grinding a guy like Boetsch, but Boetsch’s heart is a special intangible, and there’s simply no guarantee Rory could match the physical intensity of “The Barbarian”.

Alan Belcher doesn’t feature within too many top 5 lists, but I personally feel there isn't another solid five contender I’d pick to beat “The Talent”. This guy has come into his own in a major way. His only serious flaw as a fighter is his inclination to injury. If he could stay healthy, he’d likely be a far more feared man.

Look at the last three or four years of Belcher's career. With the exception of a stunning upset loss to Jason Day in April of 2008, the man’s only dropped a single fight. According to the judges (even according to the 10 point must system, I scored the fight in Belcher’s favor and will maintain that stance) Yoshihiro Akiyama did enough to earn a split decision nod back at UFC 100, in July of ’09.

Since then he’s thrashed his opponents, and while not every man he’s beaten in said stretch is a current top 10 competitor, a handful were impressive. Throttling Rousimar Palhares isn’t an easy feat. Neither is bullying Patrick Cote en route to an almost WWE-esque finish. He picked Ed Herman apart in ’08, and put a definitive end to any and all hype behind Denis Kang in 2009.

Rory would no doubt have his hands full with the diverse striker and dangerous submission practitioner. Belcher has every quality needed to put a potential beating on Rory, but the outcome probably comes down to one thing: who chooses to be the aggressor.

The risk will create openings, but I don’t think either man will appreciate the assault of the other. And the man on the receiving end of the forward onslaught is likely the man to break.

For the record, I’d probably pick MacDonald to prevail over the majority of the division. I believe he’s a talented enough competitor to put away fading dogs like Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva and Cung Le. Their days are numbered, and their positions amongst the divisional best are virtually nonexistent.

The mid-tier run of the middleweight ladder won’t likely offer the Canadian much, either. I don’t see the Alessio Sakaras, Chris Leben or Mark Munoz’s of the division showing MacDonald much that he hasn’t already seen.

A move to middleweight could yield success for Rory, but it may ultimately leave him in a position further from the title shot he flirts with now at welterweight. I’d love to see “Ares” meet a few more rugged guys at 170 to prove his worth and expand his experience level. Fights with Johny Hendricks, Nick Diaz and Josh Koscheck all sound extremely interesting, in my opinion.


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