Rory MacDonald, MMA's Face of Pain, Is the Sport's Most Courageous Fighter

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJanuary 21, 2018

INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 20: Rory MacDonald (blue gloves) and Douglas Lima (red gloves) in their Welterweight World Title fight at Bellator 192 at The Forum on January 20, 2018 in Inglewood, California. MacDonald won by decision. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Blood spattered the screen during the entrance video for Rory MacDonald (20-4), Bellator's new welterweight champion. Somehow, after his grueling victory over Douglas Lima at Bellator 192, that seemed more appropriate than ever.

"I have a rage in me, you know," he told the cameras on the new Paramount Network, face, as ever, devoid of any discernible emotion. "When things get messy, I rise to the occasion and take it to another level."

Some fighters are known for their slick submissions, others for their fearsome knockout power or intricate footwork that turns the sport into almost a dance, a gliding display of brutal elegance.

MacDonald, though a skilled technician in all those areas, personifies something else entirely. The punishment he took in a 2015 fight against Robbie Lawler was so unsparing and barbarous that even thinking about it can make the most hardened fight fan shudder. His is the face of will, of grit, of courage, a broken, battered shell, eyes half-lidded, lips curled into half a smile.

Against Lawler, MacDonald wore a crimson mask.
Against Lawler, MacDonald wore a crimson mask.John Locher/Associated Press/Associated Press

And this time, his face wasn't even the worst of it.

In the second round, new Bellator color commentator "Big" John McCarthy noted Lima's powerful leg kicks and their potential impact on the fight. They weren't the flashy kicks that traditionally draw a reaction from fans, shin bouncing off thigh with a satisfying smack. These, McCarthy pointed out, were targeting the shin. These were the crippling kind.

By the third of five rounds, there was no hiding the damage Lima had done. MacDonald's lower left leg began to swell, eventually in truly grotesque fashion, his shin seemingly growing its own additional shin. As the round closed, Lima dropped him to the ground with a kick to the leg, then bloodied his nose with ground-and-pound.

Things didn't look good.

"I've seen a lot of fights in my day and I've seen a lot of warriors go in there," Bellator President Scott Coker told the press after the fight. "... But Rory MacDonald really impressed me tonight. He had the perseverance, the indomitable spirit, all the intangibles of what I consider the foundation of martial arts.

"He exemplified some great strength tonight, inner strength. He could have quit a couple of times. That leg was gone. ... I said 'one more kick, it's over' and then he got kicked again, then took him right down. I said 'wow, this guy wants it really bad.'"

We watch sports to see human beings do incredible things. Sometimes those are feats of incredible athletic daring, displays of speed, strength and endurance that defy the limits of comprehension.

Fighting offers all of that and something more.

The great fighters conquer more than just their own bodies. They vanquish pain and fear itself, continuing in the face of adversity that would humble the strongest of us.

Rory MacDonald is a fighter's fighter. As the judges rendered their scorecards and McCarthy interviewed him in the cage, the facade slipped momentarily. He needed a cornerman's help just to stand. A trip to the hospital soon followed. But, for 25 minutes, MacDonald faced the pain—and pain backed down.

"I think I have a person growing inside of me," MacDonald joked in the cage after the fight. "I can't really walk on it. But, whatever. I got through it."

Watching him dispatch Paul Daley and now Lima, it would be easy to make a case for MacDonald, still just 28 years old despite more than 12 years in the sport, as the best welterweight on the planet. I won't do that here.

Let's simply note that MacDonald is one of the bravest, mentally strong and truly inspiring warriors ever to step inside a steel cage. It's possible to out-skill him. Some have managed to be even more ferocious. But if it's a battle of will and will alone, my money is on Rory MacDonald.

And, for a fighter, that's the greatest compliment of all.

     

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.

Related

    Leon Edwards: MMA Saved Me

    MMA logo
    MMA

    Leon Edwards: MMA Saved Me

    ESPN.com
    via ESPN.com

    NFL Players Who Have Fought in Mixed Martial Arts

    MMA logo
    MMA

    NFL Players Who Have Fought in Mixed Martial Arts

    Scott Harris
    via Bleacher Report

    Staff Predictions for Dos Anjos vs. Edwards

    MMA logo
    MMA

    Staff Predictions for Dos Anjos vs. Edwards

    Nathan McCarter
    via Bleacher Report

    Cerrone vs. Gaethje Set for FN 158

    Who are you taking in the Sept. 14 fight?

    MMA logo
    MMA

    Cerrone vs. Gaethje Set for FN 158

    Who are you taking in the Sept. 14 fight?

    Tom Sunderland
    via Bleacher Report