Rory MacDonald was once an afterthought of sorts.
He has made significant progress each time he's stepped in the Octagon and has always been considered a fighter who might easily be a future champion. But Georges St-Pierre casts a long and imposing shadow, and much of that darkness fell on MacDonald.
The pair were (and still are) teammates, which meant that MacDonald's hopes of rising to greatness were stifled. He didn't want to fight his training partner, sure, but St-Pierre and MacDonald are friends.
St-Pierre, one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen, took MacDonald under his wing and ushered him into the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal. They dined together and entertained together. No matter how far up the ladder MacDonald climbed, he would never seek to assume the throne.
Now, St-Pierre is gone, and we do not know if he will ever return. The welterweight division has a new champion, and the ties that prevented MacDonald from challenging for the top spot in the division are no longer holding him back. MacDonald, winner of seven of his last eight fights, is on the verge of title contention.
And after a dominant win over Tyron Woodley at UFC 174, MacDonald is closer than ever to reaching the same heights St-Pierre did.
MacDonald's win was the sole highlight of one of the worst UFC events in recent memory.
Woodley came into the fight with a head of steam and repeated demands for a title shot; MacDonald sent him back to Florida with another loss on his record. He baffled Woodley with pinpoint striking, using his jab effectively and utterly stifling Woodley's nonexistent game plan. Which is to say, if Woodley had an idea of what he wanted to do against MacDonald, he simply wasn't able to execute. MacDonald was that good.
In fact, it may have been the best performance of his career.
“I think this is probably my best performance of my career so far,” MacDonald said at the post-fight press conference. “I’ve got to watch the tape, but I’m pretty happy right now. Except closing the fight. I didn’t get the finish, but things went well."
MacDonald is now within shouting distance of a championship shot. He'll have to wait, most likely, until the winner of next month's heavily anticipated bout between Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler gets his shot at Johny Hendricks; Brown and Lawler are widely considered to be ahead of MacDonald.
But he is not far back from the pack, and his shot is coming sooner than later.
When it does, it will be his turn to capitalize, to emerge from St-Pierre's looming shadow and potentially assume his place as Canada's new favorite fighting son. But he isn't looking for the same stratosphere of fame St-Pierre currently occupies; there will be no movie deals for MacDonald.
He wants to fight, and he wants to win the championship, but he has seen firsthand what kind of fame can go with the territory and is not interested in pursuing it. He's in this for the athletic accomplishments and nothing more.
“I want them to like me, but I don’t want to be a superstar," MacDonald said. "Hopefully, I will be a champion and represent Canada well."