- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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So I’m just going to come right out with this ... I saw nothing wrong with the way UFC welterweight Rory MacDonald fought on Saturday in Seattle.
I didn’t even find his decision win over Jake Ellenberger to be all that particularly “boring.” Seeing MacDonald shut down an opponent as good as Ellenberger with feints, jabs, front kicks and footwork was actually very watchable to me.
That’s not the point here, though. If you found the fight boring, fine. There’s really no right way to see a fight. Either you liked it or you didn’t.
The way in which many perceive MacDonald’s performance, though -- I have to say I just don’t agree with it. You always see plenty of comments on Twitter after a high-profile UFC fight. In this case, an extreme one sent to me suggested the win shouldn’t even count. Those kinds of outbursts are expected, but reactions to this performance have gone beyond Twitter.
A lot of that can be attributed to UFC president Dana White, who influences the opinion of countless others. White accused Ellenberger of doing “nothing,” and said “Rory is one of the best in the world, but he didn’t look it tonight.”
White also said he encourages fighters the day before an event to go after "Fight Night" bonuses. “You want more money?” he said. “It’s right there, go get it.”
It’s important to remember that White is a fight promoter. This was the most highly anticipated bout of a Fox Network event and it failed to produce drama. You expect this kind of reaction from him, but there’s a lot to disagree with in his comments.
MacDonald, 24, was in the biggest fight of his career against a major knockout threat in Ellenberger. Before the fight, I wrote that standing and trading in the pocket would be dangerous for MacDonald, and I believe many of you would have agreed.
Why are we all so shocked then, that MacDonald remained conservative once he realized he could easily outpoint Ellenberger from the outside? And even to say it was “easy” isn’t accurate. MacDonald may not have been entertaining, but he dominated the No. 4 fighter in his division and that's not really easy, regardless of how it’s done.
I understand the idea that this is a fight -- it’s not a baseball game where 1-0 means the exact same thing as 20-0. Style counts in martial arts. But I would also say there is a right time for style, and Saturday wasn't necessarily it for MacDonald.
What real incentive did he have to take a risk and look to finish the fight?
Some would say a "Fight Night" bonus. Knock him out, take home an extra $50,000. Nothing is even close to guaranteed when talking about those bonuses. Robbie Lawler turned in arguably one of the best knockouts of the year against Bobby Voelker on Saturday and watched the KO bonus go to Melvin Guillard.
Others would say take the risk because of the stage. It was a high-profile fight. A spectacular win could mean -- what? Where would a spectacular win have gotten MacDonald? He was already the No. 3-ranked welterweight in the UFC standings headed into the weekend. I’m pretty sure the win didn’t drop him a spot.
Would it have got him a fight against Georges St-Pierre? A fight he says he doesn’t even want? One thing I do agree with White on is that secretly, MacDonald wants to fight St-Pierre (only because he has the title).
If that’s really true though, think about it: All MacDonald has to do is pipe up and say it. Teammate versus Teammate? The student challenges the master? Come on. The UFC will jump behind that idea any time MacDonald chooses to push it.
No. This was about MacDonald recognizing a dangerous opponent and securing a win, which he did. He didn’t look like one of the best in the world? He owned Ellenberger. In interviews for the UFC before the bout, he said he wanted to “embarrass him, technically.” He did that.
And this idea that Ellenberger wasn’t right in the fight, that he did “nothing” -- I just don’t buy that. He tried to get to the inside on MacDonald and couldn’t. Maybe he could have turned to his wrestling earlier when his striking failed, but ultimately he just ran up against a superior opponent with a better game plan that night.
It’s not lost on me that a fight like MacDonald-Ellenberger isn’t great for television and certainly not great for casual fans tuning in to watch for the first time.
In this scenario though, you lose the big picture if that’s what you focus on. MacDonald went into one of the biggest tests of his career and emerged without a scratch and two 30-27 scorecards.
If straight violence is your goal, there are limitless sources of it to be found. But one attraction of the UFC is that it showcases technical martial arts at its best. I thought MacDonald’s jab was a good example of that Saturday, and it deserves more than only criticism.