UFC 167: Rory MacDonald Needs to Make Serious Changes

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2013

Jul 27, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Rory MacDonald speaks at a press conference after UFC on FOX 8 at Key Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

On a night when Georges St-Pierre shocked the world, both by pulling out a decision and then executing one of the stranger post-fight interviews MMA has ever seen, it was his protégé and Tristar teammate who had people talking first.

Rory MacDonald, heir apparent to the welterweight throne in the eyes of most, put on another excessively calculated performance in his bout with Robbie Lawler and watched as the veteran slugger took a win away with relative ease.

MacDonald has long been thought to be the greatest welterweight prospect in MMA, a man who devoted his life to the sport at 14-years-old and made his UFC debut before he could legally buy a beer in America.

His first UFC loss was to Carlos Condit, one in which he looked absolutely incredible until succumbing to a late onslaught and suffering a TKO. Soon after, he rebounded to beat the likes of Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills in utterly explosive fashion.

He threw Diaz all over Toronto in their bout, smashed the veteran Pyle with stomach-turning precision and pounded Mills into the Atlanta dirt without breaking a sweat.

The future had arrived.

And upon it's arrival, the UFC decided to link it to the past in a bout with BJ Penn. That's where it all started to go wrong.

MacDonald fought Penn in late 2012 and badly outclassed the legendary Hawaiian. There were points where the only thing holding Penn up was the MacDonald onslaught, and it was clear that the fight could have been stopped at any point that the young Canadian wanted it to be.

Except it never was.

He just peppered Penn and claimed a smug satisfaction from the beating he laid and the decision he earned, citing Penn still being dangerous as the main reason he didn't push harder to finish.

A concerning approach, voluntarily avoiding the finish of a man almost dead on his feet for fear of hypothetical danger presented, but his early UFC run was so impressive that most gave him a pass.

Then came his fight with Jake Ellenberger.

The UFC gave him the bout as a showcase on FOX, and Ellenberger was the perfect guy to provide a star-making turn. He's tough, aggressive and powerful, and he did a fantastic job of getting under MacDonald's skin with Twitter jabs and potshots in interviews.

People were giddy when the two got in the cage, clamoring to see two of the best young guys in the sport scrapping with genuine hate for one another.

They got physical combat with the intensity level of a children's dance recital instead.

The two circled each other for fifteen minutes, almost never engaging and showing no interest in exhibiting violent behavior, much to the chagrin of the Seattle crowd.

The fight was a skittish, uncommitted showing by MacDonald that left the world utterly baffled, as he won a snoozeworthy decision.

He caught an incredible amount of hate for it, with Dana White leading the charge. There was real concern of a new Rory MacDonald and that he, for lack of a more forgiving phrase, might kind of suck to watch.

Enter Robbie Lawler and the win streak he rode into UFC 167. Lawler, one of the purest killers the UFC has ever seen, had violently won consecutive fights since returning to the UFC earlier this year and was getting some serious momentum as a welterweight threat.

Again, MacDonald tried to win by awkwardly hopping around and doing everything but moving forward. He occasionally threw a jab or tried for a front kick, but it wasn't until the midway point of the second round that he even seemed aware he was in a fistfight.

By then, he'd lost a round, and he couldn't get any concrete momentum to carry into the third. Before he knew it, Lawler was hitting him with massive shots and snatching an improbable win at the MGM Grand.

Many were shocked, but the writing was on the wall. MacDonald has struggled in the past with well-rounded, aggressive guys anyway, but it's his evolving approach to the fight game that really sealed it.

Since he's climbed the divisional rankings and found the talk of him as an unstoppable force growing louder, he's gotten further away from what got him there. Gone is the aggressive pursuit of a takedown, the relentless top control and ground-and-pound, the killer instinct.

In it's place is a kid who looks confounded by the fight, who's fallen in love with a standup game that simply isn't as effective as he and his coaches believe it is.

It's not too late to turn it around. MacDonald is 24-years-old, and his loss was a split decision to one of the best guys in the world at 170lbs. But a lot needs to change because the sport is very unkind to guys who lose, especially those who do it in boring fashion.

It's time for Rory MacDonald to leave Tristar, who have done almost as much harm as good in his fighting evolution. He'll likely have to fight St-Pierre at some point anyway if being champion is his goal, so cutting that tie preemptively is a wise move.

Get back to heavy takedowns and vicious ground-and-pound and away from a tepid jab and a flailing front kick. No one wants to see it. It's not winning fights, and it's a waste of near-limitless potential. Find a coach or a gym that preaches aggression as much as game plan and fighting to your own strengths as much as to the strengths of a judge's scorecard, and go there.

With the right tweaks, MacDonald could still have his title shot by 2014 and a run as a great champion in the years to come.

Without them, he could end up remembered more for his haircut than for his legacy, something unfathomable when the world first saw him.