At face value, Rory MacDonald seems like the world’s best-dressed serial killer. But maybe he’s just a man of glaring contradictions.
He speaks with a slow, hesitant drawl, as if every word coming out is scraping the roof of his mouth. His eyes are permanently transfixed in an emotionless gaze that makes you wonder what on earth is going on in the brain that lies just behind them. The guy is so cold and distant in interviews, and so remorseless in his promises of blood and pain inside the Octagon, that I’m beginning to wonder if Dexter was based on a true story. While on a UFC media conference call (h/t MMA Mania), MacDonald said of opponent Jake Ellenberger:
I don't really care. It doesn't really bother me either way, I don't really care about the disrespect or whatever. I just get in there and fight my fight. If they suffer, they suffer. I don't really care if they're nice or if they're an a--hole.
Creepy. MacDonald is the Albert Fish of mixed martial arts. And that’s not a compliment.
But then you see his full body of work as a human being and it’s obvious the 24-year-old Canadian is a man of layers. He has complexities and multitudes that could leave a FBI profiler running for cover. He dresses like an issue of GQ came to life and attacked him; his button-down shirts fit him a size too small, his ties are skinny and sleek, as if a silk snake was slithering down his chest, and he’s been known to rock knee-length raincoats when he’s already inside and decidedly dry.
Oh, and then there are the sweaters. Good lord, the sweaters. MacDonald has a million of them, each one flamboyantly fancier than the last—buttons and pockets and tassels galore over fabrics made from the finest cottons and wools. Then he tops the whole look off with some thick-framed shades and greased back hair ripped from Don Draper fantasy camp.
If MacDonald is a monstrous killer, he sure is a fabulous one. And that’s the conundrum. What is this kid really about? Who is he? What does he want? And seriously, where does he buy those sweaters?
There have been other fighters with the same morbid demeanor and business-like approach to pounding plasma out of people’s foreheads. Fedor Emelianenko practically invented it. But, unlike MacDonald, Emelianenko actually played the part through and through. He lived in Russia’s distant wilderness and spent his free time smashing giant tires with a sledgehammer and beating up grizzly bears. He prayed to God for fashion advice. Everything about him made sense in a nonsensical way. He was a mystery mountain man who acted like every moment of his career was taking place in a molasses mudslide, and it worked.
MacDonald doesn’t make any sense. He’s all over the place. One minute he’s hanging with buddy Mike Ricci in high-priced designer jeans, the next he’s staring into an interviewer’s soul and pledging a slow-cooked slaying with fixings of broken bones.
I get it. People can have dichotomies. But metro and mental? It’s as jarring as Ray Lewis in a tutu. But it sure makes MacDonald intriguing.
Throw in his youth and elite fighting acumen, and this might just be the most interesting fighter in the UFC. Add his friendship and stout allegiance to Georges St-Pierre, the man standing between him and a sparkling new accessory (championship belts and cardigans complement each other perfectly), and all the pondering over whether he’ll fight him or move to middleweight, and you got a living, breathing question mark.
On Saturday, MacDonald faces Jake Ellenberger who is as single-minded and simple as MacDonald is confusing. Ellenberger, also known as “The Juggernaut”, runs over people like a big green tractor plows through open field in his home state of Nebraska. It will be a clash of a known commodity and a swirling abyss of uncertainty. Ellenberger has both beaten and lost to elite welterweights (Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann), while MacDonald’s biggest win is fittingly over B.J. Penn, who is also one giant head scratcher. The winner will be on the fast track to a title shot.
Or will he?
If Ellenberger wins, he’d be at most one more fight away from the title. He would be 9-2 in the UFC with consecutive wins over top-10 opponents and is one of the few welterweights left who hasn’t already been horizontally annihilated by GSP.
But MacDonald? An impressive victory here might force his hand. To do what, we can’t be sure, but topping the No. 4 fighter in the division doesn’t leave him anywhere to go but up.
And up is St-Pierre, MacDonald's forbidden fruit. His last temptation.
At that point it's fight or flight. MacDonald will either have to flee the division or combat his friend, and something behind those dead eyes tells me that despite his promises, MacDonald will be doing the latter.
It all adds to the intrigue of what should make for the best—and most important—fight this Saturday. Another day, another layer to the confounding onion (or cake) that is Rory MacDonald. Maybe after he fights Ellenberger we’ll get a firmer grasp on what he’s really about.
Or maybe we’ll be that much further away.