Rory MacDonald: How Long Can He Avoid Fighting GSP?
With all the temptations of money, fame and glory to seduce rising stars and incumbent champions, two men fighting in the same division of the same promotion, ranked in the top five, are destined to fight each other.
Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald isn’t there yet, but his place in the upper echelons of the sport is all but guaranteed, bringing with it a compelling showdown with his mentor and training partner, Georges St-Pierre.
Both men have repeatedly said that they have no intention of fighting each other, but we’ve seen how sacred those vows are when the UFC dangles lucrative paydays at its fighters.
It is not for GSP to challenge the young prodigy. He’s the welterweight champ and one of the most dominant fighters of his era.
But MacDonald is one of the most exciting talents fighting in the UFC today. His emphatic victory over BJ Penn at UFC on Fox 5 last Saturday means he could be facing a disturbing dilemma.
Either challenge GSP for the title or remain in his shadow for years to come.
In the press conference following his victory against Penn, MacDonald was once again asked whether he’d fight GSP, as though the world expects him to give a different answer sooner or later.
But MacDonald stuck to the script.
"I don’t know. I’m not there yet," said the 23-year-old Canadian. He continued:
So, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I don’t feel like I need to fight Georges. I don’t think it will happen. It won’t happen. Me and him are friends. He’s done a lot for me and I’m very grateful to him and I’m not going to stab him in the back. And I don’t want to wreck my opportunity training at Tristar. They’ve done a lot of things for me. So I dunno, we’ll see. See what happens. There’s other fights for me right now.
That seems like an emphatic answer until you consider his response to that question a year-and-a-half ago.
Back in July 2011, MacDonald was fresh off a career-defining win over young hotshot Nate Diaz. He’d recently relocated to the Tristar gym in Montreal, home of GSP, and that move had clearly paid off.
At the time, he couldn’t be more grateful to his new training partners. According to Cage Potato, he said:
The gym is now my full-time home and I have a second family there. When I first moved down here, Georges St-Pierre was one of the most helpful guys and was always looking to make the transition easier for me. I didn’t have a car at the time, and Georges went out of his way to pick me up every day for training.
He went on to explain the unparalleled mentorship GSP provided to him in his early days at Tristar, teaching him what it meant to be a mixed martial artist as well as a professional athlete.
These guys are like family to me now and Georges is as close as a brother. I would never ask for a title shot while he was still UFC champion. He has helped me out, taught me things and extended his trust to me. There’s no way I could then turn around and demand a fight against him. I would never disrespect him like that…If anything, I would move up in weight and fight for the middleweight or light-heavyweight belts instead.
On the surface, that response seems little different to what he said after the Penn fight. But beneath the surface, his tone is now less reverential and emphatic.
"I don’t know. I’m not there yet," he said. "I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I don’t feel like I need to fight Georges."
He doesn’t know? He doesn’t "feel" like he needs to fight GSP? He’ll cross that bridge when he gets there?
And it’s not just these hedged responses that should raise eyebrows.
There’s something different about MacDonald compared to the fresh-faced fighter we saw in July 2011. Something changed in him after he obliterated veteran Mike Pyle via first-round TKO in August 2011.
He started dressing and talking differently. He changed his nickname from "Waterboy" to "Ares"—the Greek god of war.
By July this year, he was openly saying to MMA Weekly that he no longer considered GSP a mentor.
I’ve come to a point in my career where I don’t look up to anybody in this sport anymore. Yeah, Georges he’s a good friend of mine, but I don’t look up to anyone. He’s a regular guy and a great training partner for me and me for him so it works good together.
This doesn’t mean that the two fighters will inevitably face each other. As things stand, MacDonald still has more fights to win before he’s considered a title contender.
At 31, GSP is looking to wind down his career. Having already cleared out the 170-pound division several times, he only has a couple of intriguing matches left at welterweight. There’s Nick Diaz in his immediate future and perhaps Johny Hendricks after that.
Then, he will very likely have to face Anderson Silva at catchweight.
GSP has already said that he’d have to add muscle if he is to face Silva. If he does that, he’d never be able to move back down to 170 pounds.
That would solve the MacDonald question in a snap.
The two will have avoided each other, a friendship will have been saved, the veteran could retire into the sunset and the young star could then go on to fulfill his promise with a clear conscience.
But as we saw with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans—two training partners who acted like brothers—so much can turn on the slip of the tongue, especially when egos are involved.
Both Jones and Evans once said that they would never fight each other, but then in an interview Jones said that he may have to fight his training partner if UFC president Dana White asked him to and Evans saw red.
White is already stirring things between MacDonald and GSP.
"I guarantee you if Rory looks looks at GSP’s f****** bank account, he'll want to beat the s*** out of him," White said in April (H/T MMA Junkie).
It’s not inevitable the two Canadian welterweights will meet in the Octagon. There’s every chance that their paths will never cross.
But one comment from GSP taken the wrong way could put a target on his back in the eyes of MacDonald, who today carries himself with the demeanor of a stone-cold killer.
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