Make no mistake about it; anyone looking to stand out from the pack at UFC 170 had a big task ahead of them.
The headlining bout alone was destined to be hard to top given the principals involved: two undefeated Olympians, women, putting it all on the line following a level of hype and attention that only a superstar like Ronda Rousey could bring.
Then, there was the upstart, Patrick Cummins, in the ultimate underdog role; if he could pull off a highly improbable upset, he would go from the coffee house to light heavyweight spoiler and a prime contender in the Jon Jones sweepstakes.
After the smoke from the event had cleared Saturday night in Las Vegas, more than a few fighters had made a case for themselves. Erik Koch scored a first-round stoppage against the overmatched Rafaello Oliveira, Stephen Thompson displayed his striking prowess by finishing Robert Whittaker inside of five minutes and Mike Pyle earned a brutal finish over TJ Waldburger late in Round 3.
But amid all the hype, talk of upsets, decisions and stoppages, one fighter re-established himself against a very tough opponent and stole the show: Rory MacDonald.
After being thoroughly dominated on the ground in the first round, MacDonald came out strong and looked very much like a man who realized he was going to have to fight for all he was worth in order to avoid a second straight loss.
In Round 2, he managed to stuff the takedown attempts of Demian Maia as if the discouraging events of the first frame had never happened. Not only that, but he took advantage of the fatigue of his opponent, landing a good jab and a hard kick to the body.
As Maia continued to try to press forward, MacDonald went to work, wobbling the Brazilian with stiff punches while turning the tide in convincing fashion.
As the third and final frame began, it looked like MacDonald had all the momentum until Maia got a takedown. Suddenly, MacDonald was exactly where he didn’t want to be—under a submission wizard who had forgotten more about grappling than he was likely to learn.
Once again, MacDonald proved he wanted the victory by fighting hard, defending himself on the ground until he landed an excellent sweep that saw him regain his feet.
From there, MacDonald fought to get back the advantage, landing well on the feet with good strikes, including a hard uppercut.
It was exactly the kind of performance he needed in order to put him back into title contention. He rallied back from serious adversity on two occasions, fought hard, pressed the action and looked every bit like a man who wanted to win more than anything.
On a night that saw decisions and first-round finishes, MacDonald defeated a very dangerous opponent in an exciting fight that reminded us just what he is capable of when he puts his mind to it.