Losing to Robbie Lawler was exactly what Rory MacDonald needed.
The young welterweight star has been coasting on a sea of hype for well over two years now. As Georges St-Pierre’s protégé, MacDonald’s path seemed simpler than any other fighter's on the entire UFC roster.
He would continue to fight in St-Pierre’s shadow and win tough fights, and whenever St-Pierre lost or decided to retire, he would step right in and fill the massive void left by arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history.
But things rarely go according to plan in this world. Fate often has a cruel twist up its sleeve capable of derailing even the supplest individuals.
After suffering his first career loss to Carlos Condit, MacDonald rebounded with a five-fight win streak, with every victory coming relatively easy against notable opposition.
With early talks of St-Pierre possibly retiring, the stars appeared to finally be aligning for MacDonald to step from beyond the shadows and take his place at the forefront of the UFC welterweight division.
"Everything was coming very easy for me the last three years since losing to Carlos (Condit). The fights were going very smoothly, and I just felt like, 'Wow, it's becoming very easy.' I kind of let my guard down a bit,” MacDonald said on The MMA Hour Monday.
It’s a common mistake for a young fighter to feel invincible until they are grounded by the realization that the margin of error is too small in MMA to ever become comfortable.
The truth was revealed to MacDonald in a stunning split-decision loss to Lawler at UFC 167. He had taken all of his previous hard work for granted. The hunger and fire that had once fueled him had been eradicated by superstardom.
On The MMA Hour, he admitted that fighting was no longer fun for him:
Usually, win or lose, in my fights in the past, I've always had fun. I've always enjoyed my time fighting. This year, I didn't enjoy fighting. ... The most exciting point for me was actually getting into the fight. I was hungry. I wanted to destroy my opponents, and I was hungry. I had that fire in me to fight. I think it shows in both of my performances this year that I didn't have that fire.
...I needed to lose. I needed to get into a hard fight. I'm very motivated, more than ever now. I'm very hungry. I feel like I have that fire back.
At only 24 years old, the future remains bright for MacDonald, who is still one of the most talented fighters in the UFC.
It’s rare for any path to greatness in MMA to yield a linear road without any stops or roadblocks along the way.
MacDonald is now faced with the second major roadblock in his professional career, and like last time, he is prepared to face it head-on.