After nearly nine years as a professional fighter and nine Octagon bouts, Rory MacDonald may have seen it all before even hitting his 25th birthday. Having said that, you wouldn’t be off base in assuming that with a win over Tyron Woodley in the UFC 174 co-main event this Saturday it will almost be Graduation Day for “Ares.”
“I still have more goals,” counters MacDonald, the number two-ranked welterweight in the UFC. “It’s a long road and you never really graduate as a martial artist. You’re always learning and progressing. Even when my career’s over in the UFC, martial arts will never end for me. I’ll still always be training and be on the journey of learning more. There’s more than just combat in martial arts; there’s a lot that goes into it.”
Leave it to the young ones to dispense the oldest pearls of wisdom. But even as the possibility of a world title fight looms closer, MacDonald is not focusing on what everyone else seemingly is. Yes, the winner of the upcoming Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown fight is likely to get the next shot at champion Johny Hendricks, but many believe a spectacular performance by MacDonald or Woodley could sway public opinion in favor of this weekend’s winner.
“I’m not putting pressure on myself in that way,” said MacDonald. “How I’m going into this fight is just to be myself and let my talent shine through, and I think the rest will take care of itself. I can only be me and react to what’s in front of me that night, and make it as good as possible. I’m going to put my own personal spin on it in this fight, and hopefully everyone will enjoy it and recognize that I should get the next shot.”
Given his experience in the UFC since his debut in 2010, that’s the wisest course of action for the 24-year-old Quesnel native. He’s gone through the highs and lows, and while those highs made him one of the top 170-pounders in the world, the lows are usually the moments that stick with a fighter.
“There are times you get distracted or unfocused, and I wasn’t fighting like myself exactly,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but yeah, there are times where I fought and then watched it and was like ‘that’s not me.’ The Robbie fight was like that and when I fought Carlos (Condit) as well. I didn’t really feel like those performances were me in there. They were intense fights and the majority of the people enjoyed those two fights, which I’m glad about, but personally when I watch them as a martial artist, I didn’t feel like my personal style was being shown.”
Of course, the fights with Lawler and Condit are the only ones that he’s lost. Both were winnable bouts, with the Lawler decision coming down to a late surge by the Iowa veteran, and Condit pulling off a miracle third round stoppage with just seven seconds left in the fight. But he learned from both defeats, so when he was taken to the mat by jiu-jitsu specialist Demian Maia in the first round of their UFC 170 bout in February, MacDonald didn’t panic.
“I was totally confident,” he said. “I know what I’m doing in jiu-jitsu, I’m no beginner to the ground game, and I was real confident that the fight was not even close to be being finished. I was very confident all the way through, very relaxed, and when I got up from underneath him at the end of the round, I pretty much knew that I was going to take the rest of the fight. There was never a doubt in my mind. I wasn’t stressed at all.”
MacDonald came back in rounds two and three, won a unanimous decision and even picked up a Fight of the Night bonus check for his trouble. By his recollection, it was only the second time he fell behind early and had to make a comeback to win, the first being in his sixth pro fight against TUF Nations’ Kajan Johnson in 2007.
The Maia win may have been the final piece of the MacDonald puzzle, as he’s shown the ability to fight past adversity as well as dominate from wire to wire. This weekend, he’ll need everything he’s learned to get past a unique style matchup in the versatile Woodley.
“He’s very good with his tools, and I’m expecting a very hard fight,” said MacDonald. “I’m coming in what I believe is my best shape, I’m performing my best in my training, and I’m bringing my best into this fight on June 14. I’ll be very well-prepared for one of the hardest fights of my career.”
Some would say that MacDonald is hoping for the best and expecting the worst, but that would be a civilian’s outlook. For a well-prepared athlete, the toughest battles are the ones you crave, and all you want when it’s over is to say you gave your all and delivered your best performance. That’s the mindset of a martial artist, and Rory MacDonald is a martial artist. And while he’s not where he ultimately wants to be, he’s getting there.
“There’s always gonna be ups and downs in the career of a martial artist,” he said. “This road is pretty winding, and right now I feel very confident with where I’m at and what I’ve learned and come through and overcame over the years. I’m very excited to be fighting at the top of the welterweight division against the best fighters in the world. I’m taking on all comers and hopefully I’ll be wearing the belt and they’ll be coming to me.”
Rory MacDonald: Ares' Turn
"There’s always gonna be ups and downs in the career of a martial artist. This road is pretty winding, and right now I feel very confident with where I’m at and what I’ve learned..." - Rory MacDonald