Plenty of former UFC fighters have made the pilgrimage from the UFC to Bellator in recent times, but few raised the eyebrows of the MMA fraternity quite like Rory MacDonald. A one-time UFC welterweight title challenger, MacDonald was a fixture of the organisation, once dubbed a future star, and, crucially, still just 27 years old.
In a sense, then, he bucked the trend. After all, many of the ex-UFC fighters who made their way to Bellator before him had been popped from a similar mould. Rich on experience, maybe, they’d also suffered a rough patch of form, they were in the twilight of their career and they were keen to rejuvenate.
MacDonald, though, is different. Sure, he is coming off back-to-back defeats – against Robbie Lawler and Stephen Thompson, so no shame in that – but, yet to hit thirty, he presumably has plenty still to offer the sport of mixed martial arts. More than just a name, he is perhaps a future champion.
“It feels like chapter three of my career at this point,” MacDonald said ahead of Friday’s (May 19) Bellator debut against Paul Daley at Wembley Arena. “It’s a big organisation move. Coming off the two losses I’ve had, and the changes I’ve made in my training, I’ve noticed a big difference in my mindset, my physical abilities, my martial art abilities. I’m very excited to make my debut in Bellator and show the changes I’ve made during this layoff. I think it will excite people for future fights.”
Still intense, still driven, there’s nevertheless a feeling MacDonald, at 27, is mature beyond his years and has been around the block enough times to appreciate the finer things in life. He’s settled down. He’s content with his career (albeit eager to add titles to an already stellar resume). He is, like the rest, rejuvenated by this latest turn in his 12-year pro career.
“Basically, I’ve just been more in touch with the promoters and they’ve been getting my outlook on things, rather than just being another guy in the line, another number, another sheep,” he explained. “I feel more respected and there’s more attention to detail when it comes to the promotion and myself. Bellator gets it that they want to build the character around each and every guy on their roster. They want to build up the names and allow people to see the real side of them. But the UFC has kind of lost that and everybody is wearing the same thing and trying to be Conor McGregor. It’s lost its feel a little bit.”
The next step for MacDonald is a London showdown with local lad Paul Daley. It’s an intriguing 170-pound fight, one that pairs a technical striker with a destructive one, and there’s every chance the victor, whether British or Canadian, winds up with a title shot in the near future.
“I’m not too worried about being champ, I’m just ready to take out whoever is in front of me,” said MacDonald. “Obviously it would be nice to fight for the title, but I’m not really putting a lot of pressure on that. I just need to go out and perform the way I can.”