Rory MacDonald is only three months removed from a loss to welterweight title challenger Robbie Lawler, but is he already back in the running to reclaim the 170-pound strap for Canada?
At UFC 170, he returned to the win column with a masterful performance against jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia. With the victory, MacDonald showed he's prepared to fill the void left by his Tristar Gym teammate Georges St-Pierre, who vacated the welterweight championship following a win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167.
Despite his somewhat short break between fights, MacDonald showed marked improvement on the ground from his bout with Lawler to his meeting with Maia on Saturday.
Perhaps more importantly, he showed more composure in a clutch situation. The matchups with Lawler and Maia both saw the Canadian in a pivotal third round after he split the first and second stanzas on the scorecards. This time, despite facing an even more skilled grappler, MacDonald won a key scramble on the ground to secure victory.
At UFC 167, Lawler rolled MacDonald over on a double-leg takedown. Instead of neutralizing the situation by turning into Lawler, MacDonald turned away and tried to stand, giving up his back in the process, which played a role in his decision loss.
Flash forward a few months.
MacDonald found his role reversed after being taken down by Maia in the third round.
After being thrown to the canvas, "Ares" was able to create some space, but he didn't panic and turn his back to Maia in an attempt to stand. Instead, he secured underhooks and a butterfly guard, which he used to elevate the Brazilian over his head, creating enough space to escape freely.
Training with St-Pierre at Tristar Gym, MacDonald was bound to develop some stylistic similarities to the greatest welterweight in MMA history. However, his well-rounded abilities and constant signs of improvement are what make him a true candidate to fill St-Pierre's shoes as the 170-pound king.
Still only 24 years old, MacDonald is going to keep getting better. And it is worth noting that St-Pierre didn't begin his most notable welterweight title run until a month prior to his 27th birthday.
Right now, Ares is probably Canada's best hope to reclaim UFC gold. Considering he has already evolved since narrowly losing to a fighter who could claim the 170-pound championship next month, MacDonald's time might not be very far away.