The race for the next title shot in the welterweight division is rolling full throttle, and Rory MacDonald is within striking distance of championship gold...even if that particular picture isn't necessarily clear at the current time.
Over the past four years, the talented young Canadian has blazed his way through the competitive ranks of the welterweight fold—a weight class that is widely considered to be the most talent-rich division under the UFC banner—and established himself as one of the top 170-pound fighters on the planet.
Throughout that run, "Ares" has transitioned from highly touted prospect to legitimate title contender and built solid momentum toward earning a shot at the welterweight throne.
While there have been setbacks along the way, the 24-year-old has always rebounded strong and continued his climb up the divisional ladder. When a last-minute flurry by Carlos Condit led to the first loss of his professional career at UFC 115 back in 2010, the Firas Zahabi-trained fighter returned to the Octagon with vigor, as he rattled off five consecutive victories over top-notch competition.
That streak would bring him into the upper tier of the welterweight division, but that run would come to an end via split decision to Robbie Lawler at UFC 167 last November. Nevertheless, he quickly returned to the win column on the heels of an impressive performance in which he defeated Demian Maia in his next outing four months later.
Despite dropping the first round to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, MacDonald stormed back with ferocity and dominated the final two rounds of the fight. The win over Maia was a crucial victory at an important time and immediately put MacDonald back on the title radar at 170 pounds.
"I felt relaxed in the opening round against Maia," MacDonald told Bleacher Report. "I felt good on the ground and held good position. He wasn't able to do anything on the ground, and I was confident going into the second and third rounds that I was going to dominate the rest of the fight.
"Demian is a strong grappler and a strong starter, but I was very confident at the end of the first round. From there, I tried to do as much damage as I possibly could all over his body, and I got the victory.
"I just try to react to what my opponent is doing out there. If you watch the fight, I was throwing hard punches and connected on several at the very beginning. It was an explosive start to the fight."
He will be looking to keep his momentum rolling in his next bout when he steps into the Octagon to face Tyron Woodley at UFC 174 this Saturday night in Vancouver, B.C.
The co-main event showdown between the two top welterweights was initially figured to determine the next title contender in the division, but the resurgences of Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown—and their upcoming bout at UFC on Fox 12 next month—have thrown uncertainty into that particular equation.
Those circumstances have created a four-way race to become the next No. 1 contender, where it is possible the most impressive performance of the pack will earn the right to face champion Johny Hendricks.
That said, MacDonald isn't concerning himself with what he believes is beyond his control. In his mind, those decisions will fall on the UFC, and all he can do is continue to win. And that is exactly what he plans on doing against Woodley at UFC 174.
"I have no clue," MacDonald said in regard to where the next title shot will fall. "I've been trying to focus on putting on the best performances of my career, and I believe the rest will take care of itself. I have no power or control over that decision. The UFC and fans know I'm aiming at the title and Johny Hendricks. Right now, I'm focused on having a great performance against Woodley.
"It's a good stylistic matchup. He is a very good athlete. He's an explosive puncher and wrestler, and it is going to be a very interesting style to work against. I'm very excited to get in there with him."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise