It wasn’t all that long ago that Rory MacDonald looked like he could be a serious contender for the UFC welterweight title.
He was young, strong, aggressive and growing into a man with a scary skill set. His height gave him a reach advantage over many, and he was with one of the best training camps in the business.
Now, just a short time later, when MacDonald fights, he looks like a man who is a spectator in his own life.
The skills are still there; he has only lost two fights in his entire career, against Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler, neither of which is a slouch by any means.
But lately, he seems like a fighter who is waiting for openings to come his way, instead of attacking with any sense of purpose.
It isn’t as if he doesn’t know what to do in the cage, because he does. He nearly defeated Condit, manhandled Nate Diaz, ran right over Mike Pyle and Che Mills and threw a pretty nasty beating on BJ Penn.
And then, almost suddenly, he started to look like a man intent on waiting instead of fighting.
Now, barring any injuries, he’ll be facing off against Demian Maia at UFC 170. With this comes a chance to get back on track. He will enjoy a reach advantage of over four inches, he’s younger and figures to have the advantage in striking, at least on paper.
If he can stuff those takedown attempts, he will have the perfect chance to attack with relative impunity—but he must attack. If he does not, all those skills and physical advantages are nothing more than the trappings of the uninspired.
If there is one change MacDonald can make before UFC 170, it is as simple as it is clear—he has to start pulling the trigger, and often.
Fighting conservatively does not serve the best interests of a challenger looking to become the champion. One does not just glide into the position of champion; one takes the throne by storm.
He needs to recall his younger self and take some chances; if he doesn’t, his opponents will. In the world of MMA, it is better to give than receive, but you have to have a lot to give, and you have to force it upon your opponent.
If he would have fought with the energy and aggression due the moment in his last bout with Lawler, he might be the one facing Johny Hendricks for the welterweight title at UFC 171.
Instead, he’s trying to work his way back into contention, which is a nice way of saying he’s working for the chance to be taken seriously again.
To that end, he needs to show he is a serious threat to anyone he faces, and to do that he must give his opponents something to fear besides memories of how he used to be in 2011.
Masking a tentative offense as sound tactical practice does little to relieve the stark contrast of what once was and what now is. In his fight with Jake Ellenberger, MacDonald landed his jab accurately and often but instead of coupling it with a significant offense, he seemed to hide behind it while waiting for opportunities from a distance.
His last two fights have seen him use little of the skills that once made him so dangerous. In fact, if this current version of MacDonald were to fight the man who almost defeated Condit, I would put my money on the latter eating the former for breakfast.
There is nothing wrong with sound strategy, as long as it is aimed toward a resounding, convincing victory that sees a fighter doing his utmost at all turns. It cannot be restrained or passive; the choice to act toward a decisive end is always available and should never be sacrificed for tactical advantage based on inaction.
When considering how great MacDonald could be, seeing him settle for anything less—no matter how safe and easy it may be—is disappointing.