MMA: Rory MacDonald
Before UFC 167 in November 2013, the sport was abuzz with talk about MacDonald facing his mentor and teammate, then-UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Riding a five-fight win streak, all the momentum and hype was heaped upon the 24-year-old MacDonald, St-Pierre and the Montreal-based Tristar fight team.
“All anyone wanted to talk about was whether I would fight Georges,” MacDonald said.
Every question was about Rory [MacDonald] and Georges [St-Pierre]. I like to keep our fighters focused on the opponent at hand, but it seemed like everyone was focused on a possible Rory-St-Pierre fight, more than the actual fight [at hand]. It was distracting.” -- Trainer Firas Zahabi, on the distractions ahead of MacDonald's fight with Robbie Lawler
“Every question was about Rory and Georges,” said Firas Zahabi, MacDonald’s trainer and Tristar head coach. “I like to keep our fighters focused on the opponent at hand, but it seemed like everyone was focused on a possible Rory-St-Pierre fight, more than the actual fight [at hand]. It was distracting.”
Indeed, people sort of forgot that MacDonald still had to fight Robbie Lawler.
An overhand right and a split decision loss later, MacDonald is probably wishing he were fighting next month at UFC 171, where Lawler will fight Johny Hendricks for the vacated welterweight title. Instead, he’s fighting Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Demian Maia at UFC 170 -- to little fanfare. This isn’t a gimme. No one is looking past Maia, and St-Pierre is no longer champion.
Hype has followed MacDonald his entire career. As he's often dubbed the poster boy for a new breed of UFC fighter, MacDonald’s martial arts skill set has been sired with elite proficiency within multiple disciplines. Future greatness has been anointed on to MacDonald like no other young UFC fighter.
But there’s always been a tiny nagging suspicion about MacDonald. Is he really that good? What’s really his ceiling? Can he really beat elite competition?
Of course, you’ve seen this kind of microscope scrutiny applied to uber prospects of every sport -- Bryce Harper (baseball), Andrew Wiggins (basketball), Johnny Manziel (football). The key with these burgeoning young stars is whether they listen to the praise or detractors; whether they let any of the noise in.
“I understand people expect a lot from me; it’s nice to have those high expectations,” MacDonald said. “But it doesn’t really affect who I am or how I act. I’m just continuing on to try and accomplish my goals.”
And the immediate goal is to defeat Maia and get back on track toward a welterweight title shot.
But is he that good?
MacDonald says he would not have fought St-Pierre had both won their bouts at UFC 167. Though MacDonald insists he doesn’t let press coverage get the better of him, the looming thought of that quandary left MacDonald troubled and it showed against Lawler.
“It would have put me in a stressful situation and I think it played on my mind a lot,” MacDonald said. “It’s something that shouldn’t have happened. I should have been in control of that. But now that the door’s open and I don’t have to deal with that question anymore, it’s a lot more stress free.”
With that pressure now alleviated, there is something of a mandate for MacDonald to prove he can be the dominating force at 170 pounds that many in the industry expect him to be. But there’s that nagging suspicion again.
His five-fight win streak began after a TKO loss to Carlos Condit. He rebounded with a solid win over Nate Diaz, but MacDonald followed up with wins over retreads such as Mike Pyle, Che Mills and a way-past-his-prime BJ Penn. And MacDonald’s win against Jake Ellenberger was -- as UFC president Dana White called it -- “lackluster.” Then came the loss to Lawler.
Nonetheless, with MacDonald’s skill set, brutal ground-and-pound strategy and athletic potential, it’s understandable why the hype still hovers over him. He has openly admitted having lost motivation. Fighting wasn’t fun. But in a way, the loss to Lawler might have been the thing to shock MacDonald back into focus.
“Yeah, it was the wake-up call I needed,” MacDonald said.
And he doesn’t feel as though he has anything left to prove. “If I put on a good show against Demian, I think that’s a big enough of a statement to catapult me to the top,” MacDonald said.
In fact, one man who believes MacDonald deserves every bit of hype he’s garnered during his career is Maia. So much so that Maia believes that he could be in line for a title shot if he can defeat MacDonald.
“His hype is well deserved, and I think I could be close for a title shot if I beat him,” Maia said. “He’s good. Rory is a great fighter with excellent skills. Rory’s style is the future. The new MMA fighters will come much more complete than I was. When I had my first UFC fight, I was pretty raw in the stand-up. But today the young fighters are all like Rory -- very complete.”
However, ask Zahabi and he’ll tell you there’s only one member of that new generation of fighter -- MacDonald.
“He’s unique,” Zahabi said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a guy like Rory. He doesn’t remind me of anyone else necessarily. He just brings his own kind of style.”
There are only two welterweights who can claim to be better than Carlos Condit and neither is named Martin Kampmann. Condit not only exacted revenge Wednesday night at Bankers Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, he dominated Kampmann en route to a fourth-round knockout win.
The victory avenged a split-decision setback Condit suffered to Kampmann in April 2009. Their first fight was closely contested; not so the second time around.
Condit punched Kampmann in the face repeatedly throughout the bout, eventually leaving it bloody and puffy; he connected with kicks to the body, which slowed Kampmann’s attack and evaporated his confidence.
The performance was impressive, but more important it strengthened Condit’s case to get the winner of Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks -- those two are set to meet Nov. 16 at UFC 167 in Las Vegas. Normally it would be unthinkable to suggest that a fighter who lost his two previous bouts to the men slated to compete for the belt deserves to be next in line for the title shot.
Both ESPN.com and UFC.com, however, rate Condit the No. 2 welterweight contender behind Hendricks. Even UFC president Dana White can’t take issue with those rankings.
“It was an absolutely great fight. Carlos Condit just proved why he is the No. 2 [welterweight contender] in the world,” White said after Condit improved to 29-7.
Who deserves the St-Pierre-Hendricks winner more? The guy with the strongest counter is Rory MacDonald. But it’s not clear that MacDonald will step in against friend and teammate St-Pierre, if he is still champion after 167.
Besides, MacDonald needs to prove he has surpassed Condit before his case of being next in line to get a title shot is taken seriously. Condit has a victory over MacDonald -- a third-round knockout in June 2010.
MacDonald can claim that he is a vastly improved fighter since the loss to Condit -- there is no doubting that argument. But he should have to prove it, just as Condit did Wednesday night against Kampmann.
The only way MacDonald moves ahead of Condit in the title-shot pecking order is to prove it. Exact revenge on Condit and the debate ends. Until then, it should be all about Condit. Other than coming up short against St-Pierre and Hendricks, Condit did nothing to diminish his reputation as a top-rated welterweight.
“There are a lot of intriguing matches in the division, but of course, I’d like to get that title shot, possibly Johny Hendricks or Georges St-Pierre, whoever wins,” Condit said. “But there are other fights out here that are interesting also. We will see what happens.”
It sounds as though Condit wouldn’t mind further cementing his position as the No. 2 welterweight contender with a win over MacDonald. That fight, however, only makes sense if MacDonald is successful against Robbie Lawler at UFC 176.
As for Kampmann, he has some soul-searching to do. The loss was his second in a row -- to Condit and Hendricks. Losing to those guys doesn’t place Kampmann (20-7) in the steppingstone category. But the manner in which he went down, getting knocked out in each of those setbacks, will make it difficult for Kampmann to get a sniff at a title shot anytime soon.
Kampmann is now forced to play the waiting game. He entered Wednesday’s rematch ranked seventh by ESPN.com among 170-pound fighters, and sixth by UFC.com. Kampmann must now keep a close eye on where he falls when those polls are next released. Expect him to remain in the top 10 -- but barely.
LAS VEGAS -- UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has echoed recent comments made by his teammate Rory MacDonald that the two will never fight.
Speaking to reporters at the MGM Grand Hotel on Monday, St-Pierre shrugged off questions regarding a future fight between them as nothing more than media nonsense.
“You guys want a story,” St-Pierre said. “Make conflict happen with me and Rory. It’s not going to happen. Rory and I are tight. We’re friends.”
St-Pierre (24-2) and MacDonald (15-1) are longtime training partners at Tristar Gym in Montreal.
St-Pierre is scheduled to defend his title for the ninth time against Johny Hendricks (15-1) at UFC 167 in November. MacDonald, meanwhile, is coming off a heavily criticized decision win over Jake Ellenberger at a UFC on Fox event on Saturday.
Last week, MacDonald plainly stated to media he and St-Pierre had no intention to fight each other. MacDonald has climbed to No. 3 in the UFC’s division rankings.
UFC president Dana White responded that he didn’t believe MacDonald’s comments. St-Pierre was there to back him up on Monday.
You guys want a story. Make conflict happen with me and Rory. It's not going to happen. Rory and I are tight. We're friends.” -- Georges St-Pierre, on why he won't fight friend and fellow contender Rory MacDonald
“Rory and I, we’re friends, you know?” St-Pierre said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m friends with Rory. We text, we call each other.
“There are many ways of doing things. Maybe I want to go up [in weight]. Maybe he might go up. There are many other options. I have a plan for my career. I can not tell you everything, guys, but there are other ways of doing things.”
St-Pierre currently sits second all-time in consecutive title defenses with eight. He trails only former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who defended the 185-pound title 10 times in a row before losing it to Chris Weidman earlier this month.
When asked if St-Pierre would remain in the weight class long enough to take that record from Silva, his response was unclear.
“It’s a good question now that you say it,” St-Pierre said. “I don’t know.
“I’m taking it fight by fight. I don’t think about records because every fight is different and has its own problems.”
The champ also defended MacDonald’s conservative approach against Ellenberger, which led to the unanimous decision victory.
“The truth is, it’s not only because Rory is my friend, the truth is we all knew by watching the fight Rory was winning,” St-Pierre said. “It was up to Jake Ellenberger to take the risk to change the momentum of the fight, not Rory.”
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.
After all, if frenetic back-and-forth action is what we want in a main event, this is the formula -- even if the guys fighting in it, challenger John Moraga and 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson, are lighter than most sophomores in high school.
But then again, everybody loves a headliner consisting of two loaf-fisted heavyweight monstrosities trying to take each other's heads off. Given these perhaps outdated but still popular appetites, it's risky to trot out the remora instead of the sharks, is it not?
Not that these are the only factors.
By now you know that nobody knows who Moraga is, and that's why so many people are dishing the CliffsNotes. We need to learn of the fly on the fly. The 5-foot-3 Johnson is better known, but not to the dreaded "casual fans," the ones presumably being tempted toward their television sets. So what we're talking about by making two fairly anonymous fighters the main attraction on a big, widely seen card is that technique, athleticism, skill and speed -- colliding like two angry hummingbirds in a jar -- are more than enough.
The truth is, it might be. Particularly if each has his moments putting the other in trouble. The question then becomes: Does any of this change Johnson's approach? Johnson is holding the flyweight belt in part because he fights smart (a euphemism for "boring" in the minds of some people). He hasn't been involved in a fight that didn't go the distance since 2010, when he fought Damacio Page in the WEC. If he fights tactically against Moraga -- which by all rights he should and Moraga expects -- doesn't he make the least of the coveted spot?
That's all left for Saturday night. Drama is sometimes in the smaller details, and those are on display this weekend in Seattle.
The introduction of Moraga
Though the flyweights carry an onus of not being able to finish fights, Moraga crushes onuses like a cold monkey wrench. In two UFC bouts, both at 125 pounds, he has finished the guy in front of him. Should he do to Johnson what he did to Ulysses Gomez (that is, knock him out), here's guessing that everybody knows exactly who Moraga is come Sunday morning.
Aesthetically, the flyweights are fun to watch and almost impossible to truly behold with the naked eye. They require remote controls and liberal use of the slow-motion button. But do we ultimately value that? Should Moraga-Johnson underwhelm, this could be the last flyweight tilt (title or no) we see headlining a big card for a long time.
MacDonald as legit contender
Who has Rory MacDonald fought, cynics want to know. After all, Che Mills isn't in the UFC anymore and Nate Diaz is more of a natural lightweight (as is BJ Penn). As for Mike Pyle? He's awfully long in the tooth. But remember, MacDonald did have Carlos Condit on the ropes until the final seconds. And if he beats Jake Ellenberger, who has won eight of nine, MacDonald puts his name into imminent welterweight contention.
Ellenberger's chance to make statement
Say that Ellenberger goes in and savagely puts MacDonald away in the first round, as he's known to do. What then? The guess is that such an outcome sets up a fight between Ellenberger and Demian Maia as a true No. 1 contender bout while Georges St-Pierre-Johny Hendricks plays out in November.
It's crazy, but the last time Robbie Lawler won consecutive fights was all the way back in 2007. He traded wins and losses for four years in Strikeforce, coughing up a bit of his mystique. But the upset victory over Josh Koscheck in February put a little wind back in his sail, and should he beat Bobby Voelker on Saturday, he'll essentially have a clean slate.
Can 'Mighty Mouse' finish a fight?
Truth is, Johnson looks better each time we see him in the cage. He looked good against Ian McCall the first time and better against him the second time. Johnson looked great against Joseph Benavidez. Ditto John Dodson. The knock is that Johnson is a points fighter who does just enough. Does that end against Moraga?
Can Ellenberger win a decision over MacDonald?
You ask people how Ellenberger wins his fight against MacDonald and they'll say via knockout. But what happens if MacDonald stays disciplined and is there all night? Can Ellenberger eke out a win on points? He did fade against Martin Kampmann and Diego Sanchez, and neither is as big and strong as MacDonald.
Realistically, there's only one Guillard, and that's the same one who will show up in Seattle. He switched training camps (yet again) to Denver, where he's been training with Trevor Wittman. Thing is, he loves his power and trusts it to trump everything he'll encounter. Against Mac Danzig, who has gone 3-6 in his last nine fights, Guillard will once again sink or swim by his infatuation.
How does Carmouche rebound?
Fate is funny. For a few seconds at UFC 157, it looked like Liz Carmouche was about to defeat not just Ronda Rousey but the very reason for women's MMA in the UFC. It was a tense few moments when she had Rousey's back, but in the end, Carmouche went down gallantly. Facing Jessica Andrade, Carmouche -- the biggest favorite on the card -- has to guard against the spiral.
Will MacDonald come around to GSP?
This question is premature, which makes it the kind of question we love to ask. Yet should MacDonald beat Ellenberger, St-Pierre take care of Hendricks in November and the two be asked to fight each other thereafter, we have arrived at the next Jon Jones-Rashad Evans (and the hunch is MacDonald won't protest for long).
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
John Albert -- He has lost three fights in a row since beating Dustin Pague in his UFC debut. A loss to Yaotzin Meza is almost a guaranteed pink slip. But if Albert wins? Yahtzee! The "Prince" lives to see another day.
Aaron Riley -- Riley is only 32 years old but has been in 44 fights. He's been around the block a few times. In his last fight against Tony Ferguson, in 2011, he suffered a broken jaw. Should he lose to Justin Salas, if he doesn't hang up the gloves himself, the next pair he wears might not say "UFC" on them.
Trevor Smith -- The Strikeforce immigrant takes on an angry Ed Herman, who, in a fit of optimism, made a cameo appearance in Strikeforce against Ronaldo Souza and lost badly. Tough draw for Smith. Herman's relevance is at stake.
Melvin Guillard -- Yes, there's a Leonard Garcia thing going on here. Guillard always comes to fight, does so on short notice and lets the chips fall where they may. Dana White likes him. But he needs a win badly. Very badly. Then the UFC won't be forced to make any hard decisions on him.
Mac Danzig -- See Guillard.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the flyweights have one speed, which is blue blur ... because Johnson is one of the most underrated fighters to ever carry such mastery to the cage ... because Moraga swings for the fences and is fighting for his late cousin Jay ... because there's not one, but two women's fights, and Julie Kedzie versus Germaine de Randamie will have your grandmother spitting out her tea ... because Danny Castillo does love himself a brawl ... and for that matter so does Michael Chiesa ... and Jorge Masvidal ... because Herman can't afford to lose to Smith, and when a "Short Fuse" meets "Hot Sauce," the thing gets flammable ... because MacDonald is fighting Ellenberger, and it won't cost you a dime.
It’s hard to put a finger on, but there is something about Rory MacDonald that just rubs Jake Ellenberger the wrong way.
Maybe it has to do with MacDonald calling out certain fighters; maybe it’s the comparisons to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre or maybe it’s the perceived lack of quality opposition on his résumé. It might be all of the above. Whatever the reason, Ellenberger doesn’t like it and plans to knock the highly touted welterweight contender down a peg Saturday night at UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle.
“He calls out BJ Penn, who’s a good friend of mine; your days of calling out guys are over,” Ellenberger told ESPN.com. “You’re claiming to be a top-echelon guy, top five in the world, and you’re asking for who you’re going to fight -- Carlos Condit. No! That’s not how this game works.
“If you’re the best in the world you take any fight that UFC offers and prove that you’re the best in the world. That’s how your training partner Georges St-Pierre does it, that’s why he’s the best in the world.
“For people to be saying that Rory MacDonald is the next GSP is absolutely ridiculous. He’s got a very tough fight on his hands; that’s for sure. I’m more than ready, more than excited.”
MacDonald is ranked sixth among welterweights by ESPN.com. Ellenberger sits at No. 4.
But being the higher-ranked fighter doesn’t soothe Ellenberger’s feelings toward MacDonald. He just doesn’t care much for the 23-year-old, who is currently on a four-fight win streak.
When Ellenberger compares his professional record to MacDonald’s he shakes his head in disbelief. How could anyone reasonably put MacDonald in his league, Ellenberger seems to say to himself.
Going down the list of opponents on his ledger, Ellenberger comes across Jay Hieron, Pat Healy, Rick Story, John Howard, Jake Shields, Diego Sanchez and Nathan Marquardt.
For people to be saying that Rory MacDonald is the next Georges St-Pierre is absolutely ridiculous. He's got a very tough fight on his hands; that's for sure. I'm more than ready, more than excited” -- Jake Ellenberger
Ellenberger and MacDonald have faced Condit and Mike Pyle. But the only other highly recognizable opponents MacDonald can claim are Penn and Nate Diaz, each of whom are natural lightweights.
As far as Ellenberger is concerned MacDonald has not accomplished enough in UFC to warrant the hype surrounding him. It was enough to make Ellenberger take to Twitter in June and ask, "Which round is Rory going to melt?"
That wasn’t the first time Ellenberger had taken a shot at MacDonald’s worthiness as a high-ranking 170-pound contender -- he revealed his position during interviews to promote the bout. Each time MacDonald dismissed the verbal jabs as a small talk, not worthy of a response.
There comes a point when even the usually quiet, mild-mannered MacDonald can no longer brush off the verbal assaults anymore. And when Ellenberger took matters to Twitter, MacDonald concluded taking it lying down anymore.
So MacDonald turned on his computer, signed into his Twitter account and responded to Ellenberger’s latest insult. MacDonald said that Ellenberger talks too much, questioned his ability to take a shot on the chin and promised to shut him up in the cage.
Ellenberger succeeded: He touched a nerve inside MacDonald, something no other fighter had been able to do. MacDonald’s reaction caught Ellenberger by surprise.
It took a few minutes to figure out his next psychological tactic against MacDonald. But Ellenberger eventually concluded his work was done -- he had gotten in MacDonald’s head, gotten him riled up. He’d achieved his goal.
“I didn’t expect him to respond, but he did exactly what I was hoping he would -- take it personal,” Ellenberger said. “For me it was for laughs, but either way, whether I said something or not, we’re still going to fight.
“It’s funny because it’s really not his personality. Everybody I know who knows him says he’s very quiet, very much to himself, very introverted. I was so happy that he kind of came out. I love it; I’m glad he said something.”
But if Ellenberger’s intent was to reveal a side of MacDonald that had not been seen before, he succeeded on that front as well. Engaging in prefight trash talk isn’t MacDonald’s style; he’s known to always keep his cool. But that wasn’t the case in June.
MacDonald admits to being caught off guard by Ellenberger’s taunting. He considers responding to Ellenberger’s taunts on Twitter a minor setback and promises it won’t happen again. But MacDonald added that some good did come out of the experience.
“Yeah, he had a lot to say about me. I didn’t see it coming,” MacDonald told ESPN.com. “I heard what he had to say about me in a couple of interviews and on Twitter posts, but it really doesn’t change my mind as to the fight.
“I’m going to go in there and win this fight like any other, in devastating fashion. His words are just going to put more pressure on him and make it a bit of a harder fall from grace.
“It was kind of fun going back and forth on Twitter when you’re going through training camp and everything is kind of boring. But it won’t change anything on fight night. I’m still going to go in there and kick his ass.”
In 2013, the year of the “superfight” and new-fashioned division jumping in the UFC, anything is possible.
How possible? A simple, timely text can shake up an entire division for the better part of a year. Ask Ricardo Lamas, who should have been the next featherweight for Jose Aldo if Anthony Pettis, ten pounds and 1,000 decibels his superior, wasn’t the quickest Blackberry draw in the Midwest.
When Dana White got the buzz that night, it played out like this: Merit, shmerit. This game deals in duckets.
Now Pettis-Aldo is slated to take place in far-off August. Jon Jones versus Anderson Silva has been speculated about for New York (or Brazil [or Dallas]) in November (or December), even though Silva is fighting Chris Weidman in July, and Jones has a fight with Chael Sonnen in April. Apparently Sonnen can be looked right past to the “superfight” everybody wants. In fact, Jones/Silva is the only true superfight right now that is super enough to make rational people superstitious. Nobody wants to jinx it, except a couple of pesky wrestlers who stand in their way.
Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.
Then there’s UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who is talking about bouncing up to welterweight to face Georges St-Pierre, even though he has a fight with reigning Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez this spring, and GSP fights Nick Diaz next weekend.
That idea has since been shot down by White but, what, is Melendez a hologram? It used to be that media and fans were always thinking two steps ahead. Now the fighters are, too? This is fantastic. (I have to admit -- it’s fun to align in such foolish behavior!).
At least the scenarios get simpler from here, so let's look ahead. On March 16, at UFC 158, the welterweights will come into focus. It’s really black and white. The three top fights on the card are 170-pounders. St-Pierre, who we are assured has a dark chamber in his psyche that nobody (especially that inconsiderate Nick Diaz!) can possibly fathom, headlines the event.
All revolves around him beating Diaz. If he defeats Diaz he could fight anyone from Johny Hendricks to Carlos Condit to Jake Ellenberger to Silva, this summer, this fall, or this winter. The line snakes around the block. Hendricks more than deserves the shot, particularly if he beats Condit that same night. He has been deserving for what feels like years. If Hendricks and St-Pierre both win, that fight seems obvious.
In 2011, maybe. In 2013, not so fast.
That’s because people like Silva and Henderson happen to exist. Though Silva is now booked to fight Weidman at UFC 162, he can't help but still hover over St-Pierre in 2013. Now with a new contract, it's possible he courts that St-Pierre fight sooner rather than later. St-Pierre would have to be coaxed into agreeing, of course, which is never a given.
In other words, even if all goes to plan and both GSP and Hendricks win, Hendricks could find himself on the outside looking in. Yet again. If that were the case, maybe Hendricks could fight Rory MacDonald next, who was scrapped from the card when he got injured. He was supposed to face Condit.
And speaking of Condit, he could emerge as a dark horse in the St-Pierre sweepstakes. If he takes care of No. 1 contender Hendricks, he has some ammo. After all, the first fight had that fleeting moment when Condit came unnervingly close. And if Diaz pulls the upset over St-Pierre and somehow makes it out of Montreal in one piece, same thing -- Diaz-Condit II is viable (unless the fight results in a scorecard nightmare and St-Pierre/Diaz II has to be played back immediately). If Condit wins and somebody texts Dana White to jump the line to GSP, you’ve still got the Condit-MacDonald vendetta to sort out. No scenario is without a silver lining.
There are other factors. Ellenberger is on the card fighting Nate Marquardt, who two years after trying to debut at 170 pounds in the UFC finally gets his chance. One of them -- namely Ellenberger -- could factor into this title discussion, too. Much like an 8-7 NFL team heading into the final regular season game in a tight Wild Card race -- Ellenberger is mathematically alive, but needs help. He needs an emphatic showing and some smiling fortune, such as Johny Hendricks losing. The UFC might jump him to the top to avoid rolling back Condit-GSP II too soon in that case (even though Ellenberger lost to Condit narrowly in 2009). Unless Diaz wins, that is, and Condit faces a long medical suspension in victory.
Imagine that: Diaz-Ellenberger is the potential title fight nobody is talking about.
What’s at stake come March 16 in this makeshift welterweight grand prix? Feels like plenty. But in 2013, “what’s at stake” has turned into a versatile question. There is no obvious answer. And if you ask White beforehand, you’re likely to get his go-to response for most things yon: We’ll see what happens.
It’s not the situation Carlos Condit expected to find himself in next month at UFC 158, but he isn’t complaining. Rather, he’s embracing it.
Condit was slated to fight Rory MacDonald in the March 16 co-main event. But MacDonald, who called out Condit on several occasions in hopes of landing a rematch, suffered an injury which forced him to withdraw. UFC officials quickly scrambled to find a replacement for MacDonald. They didn’t have to look far -- consensus top-welterweight contender Johny Hendricks was penciled in to face Jake Ellenberger on the March 16 card in Montreal.
Out goes MacDonald, in comes Hendricks and Condit goes from a good situation to a better one. What a godsend for the former UFC interim 170-pound champion.
“Fighting Johny Hendricks is the perfect opportunity for Carlos to earn another shot at the UFC welterweight title,” Condit’s manager, Malki Kawa, said Monday in a statement. “Hendricks is the perfect replacement for Rory, keeping a No. 1-contender bout intact.
“It’s going to be an exciting fight.”
In his first fight since coming out on the short end of a unanimous decision to lineal welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre during a title unification showdown at UFC 154 on Nov. 17, 2012, Condit is in position to land a title shot sooner than even he could have imagined.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. In a way, it’s poetic justice: Condit gave St-Pierre a scare, giving him all he could handle. A head kick in the third round had St-Pierre on unsteady legs.
Both fighters had been out of the cage for an extended period, but who knows how that fight would have played out under normal circumstances? It was a very competitive fight, arguably the toughest of St-Pierre’s career.
At the completion of five rounds, however, there was no suspense -- St-Pierre was awarded the decision, and rightfully so. But Condit was able to hold his head high; he’d proven that he belonged in the same cage with one of the best mixed martial artists in history.
Condit spoke to ESPN.com a few weeks after that loss and expressed optimism about his future. He learned from the experience and realized there were several mistakes made during the bout. But he vows to be a much improved fighter the next time around.
“I almost had the fight in the bag,” Condit told ESPN.com in December. “With some adjustments and a few tweaks in my game, I’m going to be able to capitalize on those moments that I had in the last fight.
“I’m fired up. I’m looking to come back with a vengeance.”
Well, next time has arrived.
When Condit spoke in December of "being fired up," he had MacDonald in mind. Condit was eager to face the fast-rising 23-year-old one more time in hopes of silencing him for good. Condit won their first encounter back in June 2010 at UFC 115 by third-round TKO.
But MacDonald has been calling for a rematch since, claiming he was too green the first time around. He raised his campaign rhetoric during the build-up to UFC 154 in Montreal. MacDonald currently resides in Montreal, where he trains with St-Pierre.
Following Condit’s loss to St-Pierre and MacDonald’s dominating win Dec. 8 over BJ Penn, UFC decision-makers quickly worked on putting the rematch together. It came as no surprise that both fighters accepted the UFC’s bout offer.
Condit never turns down a fight, and now that take-on-anyone-anywhere attitude has paid off immensely. As a result of MacDonald’s strenuous training habits, he injured himself in camp.
MacDonald now has to wait a little longer for his coveted rematch, while Condit will compete in a fight that (by all accounts) is a title eliminator.
Condit is a very happy man today. But Condit’s increased enthusiasm is spurred solely by his participating in a possible eliminator; he gets to take on another fighter with a penchant for calling him out.
Condit might have to make a few strategic adjustments for Hendricks, but his motivation needle is jumping all over the place right now. The former interim champion has his swagger back.
“I have been training for Rory MacDonald, but there is plenty of time left to switch my focus to Hendricks,” Condit said Monday. “He’s called me out in the past, and now is his chance to try to back that talk up.
“I’ll be ready for him.”
Listen to him talk about the welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz on March 16, and you’ll know.
The dialogue starts with their upcoming fight at UFC 158 -- but by the time Hendricks is finished, St-Pierre and Diaz have completed one of the most epic trilogies in UFC history, spanning nearly two years.
“Let’s say Nick Diaz beats GSP [and] there’s a rematch,” Hendricks told ESPN.com. “Diaz holds the belt for six months, so then you’d be at 10 months from my last fight. Then you’re looking at, what if GSP wins but barely beats him? You know the UFC will want to do a third one. Then the winner needs five months to prepare for me, so that’s maybe 20 months.”
You can’t blame Hendricks (14-1), who now fights Carlos Condit at UFC 158 following an injury to Rory MacDonald, for thinking this way. This is the guy who Diaz (26-8) leapfrogged for the title shot, despite losing his last fight.
Count Hendricks among those who were interested in the inaugural UFC rankings, which the promotion released this month. He wasn’t shocked when he saw his name trailing only St-Pierre at 170 pounds.
“[St-Pierre] said he doesn’t think I’m the No. 1 contender,” Hendricks said. “We saw in the UFC rankings that the whole world does.
(St-Pierre) said he doesn't think I'm the No. 1 contender. We saw in the UFC rankings that the whole world does.” -- Johny Hendricks, on his place among the best at welterweight -- at least, in the eyes of the voting media
“It is what it is. I won’t be shocked ever again. The thing is, I know I’m going to have to fight these guys sooner or later. That’s the only reason I’m OK with getting all these fights. Whenever I do get the belt, I’ll already have a win over these guys.”
Hendricks was dealt an interesting hand this week, when news broke MacDonald had been forced out of his fight against Condit.
Condit (28-6) is a bigger name than Hendricks’ originally scheduled opponent, Jake Ellenberger (28-6). Big-name opponents usually represent the quicker path to a title shot.
Hendricks, however, is already widely considered the No. 2-ranked welterweight in the world. So is there much of a difference between a win over Condit and a win over Ellenberger? He believes, “Yes.”
“He was the interim title holder, he just fought GSP,” Hendricks said of his new opponent. “If you go out there and do good against him, they can’t hold anything from you. At that moment, there’s nothing they can take from you.
“If I beat Jake Ellenberger but don’t do it impressively, do I get that title shot? With this fight, as long as I win, that right there is another solidifying moment for me.”
Hendricks wouldn’t go so far as to say Condit is a more difficult fight. For Ellenberger, he had been training for a lot of hooks and takedowns. With Condit, he says he’s done a “180,” preparing for a taller guy with knees, kicks and a ground game.
If you’re wondering whether he hesitated taking the fight, the answer is no. He received a phone call asking to comment on the new matchup before he was even aware MacDonald had pulled out.
At this stage, Hendricks is unafraid of any fight at 170 pounds. There may be that sense of paranoia in his mind, but he also knows no one can deny him forever if he accepts tough fights and comes out on top.
“After this fight, I get my hand raised -- the good Lord willing -- and there’s nothing Georges can do to keep me from fighting him,” Hendricks said. “The only thing he can do is move to 185.”
Then on Dec. 8, MacDonald put on arguably his most impressive performance with a dominating win over BJ Penn. At that point, his craving turned into obsession. There was no suspense; it was clear that MacDonald had won all three rounds en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.
The only question remaining was whether he would request a rematch with Condit during a televised postfight interview. MacDonald didn’t let the suspense linger; after extending his win streak to four, he looked right into the TV camera and demanded a rematch.
Within a week, UFC officials began speaking to MacDonald and Condit about a second meeting -- on March 16 in Montreal. Each fighter has accepted the offer.
Overwhelming a mixed martial arts legend such as Penn can serve to bolster any fighter’s confidence.
Besides, MacDonald has improved in every aspect of his game since that June 12, 2010, third-round knockout loss to Condit at UFC 115.
Now MacDonald gets his wish. He’s a confident young man who is certain this time around the outcome will be very different.
But there is a matter that MacDonald and his handlers better take into account before stepping back in the cage with Condit -- he too is a much improved fighter since June 2010. And he’s not Penn: Condit won’t be physically overmatched.
“I’m a different fighter,” Condit told ESPN.com recently. “I’m a bigger, more physically imposing fighter. I’m in my prime right now. And I can’t say the same for BJ.”
Condit is aware of the beating MacDonald put on Penn, a natural 155-pound fighter. But he isn’t taking away from MacDonald. The fast-rising 170-pound contender has all the tools to defeat any of today’s top welterweights. And it must also be noted that MacDonald gave Condit all he could handle during their initial showdown.
But the confidence MacDonald has exhibited during his current win streak is countered by a hunger that Condit has not had displayed before previous fights.
“I’ve just come off a loss, the biggest fight of my career,” said Condit, the former UFC interim welterweight and WEC titleholder who will bring a record of 28-6 into the Octagon against MacDonald. “I’m fired up. I’m looking to come back with a vengeance.”
Condit has come to grips with his Nov. 17 unanimous decision loss to MacDonald’s training partner -- current welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre -- at UFC 154 in Montreal. But he isn’t hanging his head. Instead, Condit has concluded that the fight was a blessing.
“I proved that I can compete with the best in the world,” Condit said. “I almost had the fight in the bag. With some adjustments and a few tweaks in my game, I’m going to be able to capitalize on those moments that I had in the last fight.
“I think I did a pretty good job. I did the best that I could in preparing for Georges, knowing what I knew. Some things worked and some things didn’t; now we have to go back and refine. After a test like that, I have a lot of information to come back a much better fighter.”
Condit isn’t willing to share any information he garnered from the fight with St-Pierre, but he did say that fighting MacDonald again in Canada is a nonissue.
Their first bout took place in Vancouver, not far from MacDonald’s native town of Quesnel, British Columbia. MacDonald currently trains fulltime at TriStar Gym in Montreal, where he has lived the past two years.
What matters most to Condit is timing. He wants another crack at becoming the UFC’s lineal welterweight champion and a victory over MacDonald (14-1) will get him back in the title conversation. It also will give him a chance to exact his own form of payback on MacDonald.
“I’m also fired up because I was called out on national television [by MacDonald],” Condit said. “I gave him the worst beating of his life. I beat the snot out of him.
“He can come up with all the excuses that he wants; he’s got to fight me again.
“Rory has a lot of hype behind him; people are talking about him. A win over him -- another win over him -- will put me right back in the [welterweight title] mix.”
Along the way, BJ Penn committed himself to doing only what he wanted. If it wasn't fun, it wasn't worth his time.
To the delight of many people over the past 11 years, that sometimes meant walking into a cage to fight.
So the 33-year-old former UFC welterweight and lightweight champion's decision to end a brief retirement, get off the couch and accept a bout with hotshot Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald wasn't a surprise. Penn can be impulsive, and time is not on his side; he sought an itch and scratched it.
Oh, he wanted to return. He wanted to put young MacDonald in his place and take another crack at a Tristar Gym fighter. Penn also missed being mentioned in rarefied terms. He wanted that again -- a vain, revealing and honest admission. The same could be said over his concerns about legacy, which, to be fair, are hardly new.
Yet none of these things pushed boundaries, a Penn specialty. What did? Random amped-up drug testing administered by a group unaffiliated with the UFC. Via the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, Penn and MacDonald are the first fighters in mixed martial arts to undergo urine and blood testing for substances including EPO, human growth hormone and synthetic testosterone. On Wednesday, VADA tested Penn for the third time.
"If I was gonna make a comeback I wanted to make it as safe as I can,” the Hawaiian said last week in the run-up to Saturday’s UFC on Fox 5 event in Seattle. “I’m not saying Rory MacDonald is using steroids. That’s all it is. I’m protecting myself.”
Penn surely didn’t return to the UFC to be tested for drugs, but he wasn’t going to do so without being tested as rigorously as he wanted.
In a nutshell, whether it works out or not, this is how Penn has handled his career.
He angled to make it to the Octagon. He is among a select few fighters who can say he began his career there.
He pushed to fight for a UFC title and did in his fourth contest. Penn, however, wasn't ready for the moment.
He obtained a shot against Matt Hughes at 170 pounds. This time he shocked the world in his debut at the weight and captured the belt.
He coveted a contract with the UFC that allowed him to fight for Japan’s K-1 promotion. That didn’t happen, and it led to a contentious departure from the UFC and an odd sequence of matches that hurt the way his legacy is viewed. He wanted to fight at middleweight and light heavyweight, and he did. And he looked chubby and sluggish, infuriating as it was for fans who love him, away from the Octagon in the midst of his prime.
He desired the UFC welterweight title once more and re-signed with the promotion, though the belt never returned.
He aimed at the UFC lightweight title, the one that eluded him in his fourth fight. This played out the way he hoped when he ran through Jens Pulver.
Because fighting at lightweight, where he appeared dominant, wasn’t challenging enough, Penn eyed a rematch with Georges St-Pierre at 170. He suffered through a rough TKO after 20 minutes. All for an itch he wanted to scratch.
Penn has come off like a happy warrior leading up to Saturday’s card.
He restocked his camp with old faces, tailored, like always, just the way he wants. One Penn associate described the fighter as being "so relaxed and confident. He hasn’t been like this in a while. I’m feeling good about it."
The Prodigy maintains a unique place among fighters. Admittedly not much of a stick-and-ball athlete, Penn was preternaturally talented for MMA. Speed, flexibility, balance, technique -- he possessed it all, yet on the eve of bout No. 27, scuffling at 1-3-1 since 2010, this is a man lamenting that his name is missing from discussions of the best, a man craving a lasting, meaningful legacy.
MacDonald, nearly a head taller than the Hawaiian, suggested thinking like that could get Penn hurt.
"He said he's fighting to get his legacy back," MacDonald said. "I don't know if it's true or not, if it's his motivation or not. But if that is true, if you're fighting for someone's opinion, for some status, it's the wrong reason to fight."
Penn, it so happens, wants his opponents to chirp. Last week he claimed it was wonderful that MacDonald called him fat, among other things. Said Penn: "I couldn't ask for more."
Looking directly at MacDonald during the final pre-fight news conference in Seattle on Thursday, Penn reiterated the point. He wanted to tell the young fighter that he better be ready to live up to his words.
So he did.
"I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy," Penn said. "I don’t want to be known as being good back in the day. I want to be one of the best. I still think I have something left to accomplish."
ESPN Stats & Information Group
6 -- Inches in reach advantage for Diaz (76 to 70). Diaz is 3-0 since dropping back down to 155 pounds, where he has used his reach advantage and unorthodox boxing style to outclass Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller on the feet. After landing only 62 significant strikes combined in back-to-back unanimous decision losses to welterweights Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald, Diaz landed a UFC-record 238 significant strikes in his classic stand-up battle with Cerrone at UFC 141. Henderson hasn’t fought with a definitive reach disadvantage since his unanimous decision victory over Mark Bocek at UFC 129.
48 -- Percentage of takedowns Henderson has completed, as well as the percentage of takedowns Diaz has defended. A former two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson might look for the takedown early if the reach of Diaz becomes a problem. Henderson’s preference was to keep the fight standing in his two close decisions over fellow wrestler Frankie Edgar, but he completed a combined 10 of 11 takedowns in unanimous decision victories over Bocek and Miller. Diaz does have a history of being controlled on the ground as all five of his UFC losses have come at the hands of high-level grapplers. After being taken down a combined 10 times in losses to Kim and MacDonald, Diaz was put on his back only once in five attempts by Miller.
20 -- Number of submission attempts by Diaz, eighth most in UFC history. If Henderson does choose to bring the fight to the ground, he must be wary of the high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills of Diaz. Eight of Diaz’s 11 UFC wins have come via submission, most of any active UFC fighter. His guillotine finish of Miller at UFC on Fox 3 in May was the first time Miller had been submitted in 25 professional fights. Finishing Henderson will be no easy task, however, as the lightweight champ has not been submitted since his third career fight back in 2007. Henderson has made a habit of escaping deep submission attempts in his rise to prominence but would be wise not to test those Houdini skills against the Cesar Gracie black belt.
19:00 -- Henderson’s average UFC fight time, longest in UFC history (minimum five fights). Henderson has been criticized for his inability to finish a UFC opponent, as he has not tasted victory via knockout or submission since catching Cerrone in a guillotine back at WEC 48. The streak figures to be difficult to end against Diaz, whose armbar loss to Hermes Franca in 2006 remains the only time he has been finished in 23 professional fights. Both fighters also have never been knocked out in their careers, increasing the probability that, no matter who emerges with the belt, the bout is likely to go distance.
Statistical support provided by FightMetric
B.J. Penn retired in 2011, citing the unpresentable condition of his face after a three-round brawl with Nick Diaz. He told Joe Rogan in the postfight interview, "I've got a daughter, and another daughter on the way. I don't want to go home looking like this."
Of course, nobody believed him.
That was 18 pay-per-views ago at UFC 137 in Las Vegas. It took less than a year for the reach of obsoletion to hit Hilo. Once Penn began to fade into "was," the old fire began to burn in him again to get back to "is." So he called out upstart Rory MacDonald, the one guy in the welterweight division nobody wants to fight right now.
Is he crazy, people wondered. A lightweight masquerading as a welterweight against a middleweight masquerading as a welterweight? What's he thinking?
The truth is, we never really know what Penn is thinking. He's just B.J. being B.J., and a left-field callout is par for the course. That's why people love him. He's never been explicable.
Yet at the heart of it, the reason he circled MacDonald to end that brief retirement feels like it has less to do with MacDonald than with something broader. It was, to be perfectly cliché, the lure of greatness. What the one-time UFC lightweight and welterweight champion was trying to say on the media call a couple of weeks back is that there's nothing romantic about the past tense.
"I actually texted Dana [White] awhile back and said, 'Dana, I watch all these interviews and all these people talking, and no one says my name when they talk about the greatest fighters anymore … and I really don't like that,'" Penn said. "That was actually a big part of my motivation to come back and look strong and do a good fight here on Dec. 8. I want to be known as one of the best."
And besides, at just 33 years old, Penn shouldn't be a thing of the past. But the real question is, was he ever great to begin with?
There have been times in his career when Penn has realized his potential, yet he could never sustain it. He was just 5-5-1 in title fights in both the welter and lightweight divisions, yet he was in 11 title fights and defended the 155-pound belt three times, and never fought cans. He's had loud moments of greatness (Matt Hughes at UFC 46, Sean Sherk, Diego Sanchez, even the first Georges St-Pierre fight), just as he's had moments of extreme disappointment (usually as a welterweight).
To this day it's hard to know which it's going to be.
Maybe that's why, perhaps more than any other MMA fighter in the sport's aboveground history, Penn is so scrutinized before a fight. We love to gauge his demeanor as much as his midsection. Is Penn interested? Is he in shape? Is he motivated? Did he train hard? Is he running along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with a large boulder cradled in his arms?
In short -- does he care?
Heading into his fight with MacDonald on Saturday night in Seattle, the indications are that Penn does care. The time away fuels this optimism. There are the visible abs. There is the "thing to prove." He's got motivation from having been forgotten. There's his ongoing rivalry with Tristar Gym and MacDonald's comments.
Those things you can read into.
But more exciting is his sincerity. When we believe Penn is sincere, it means something. It's as good as momentum. It adds to the primal literalness that Penn brings to the fight game, as if there was never such a thing as manufactured hype. It adds to the wild eyes and the lizard tongue and all the face-slapping on his walkout to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's mix of "Hawaii '78/E Ala E." It is Penn's aura, and the very embodiment of island life and the warrior spirit.
We like that version of him, the old-school Penn. MacDonald calls himself "Ares," the Greek god of war? Penn is war incarnate, son. He is conflict.
That's the B.J. Penn whom fight fans love, and the one he's trying to get back to. Not the one who is 1-4-1 in his last six fights at 170 pounds. And, if history tells us anything, the other Penn is never far away. While St-Pierre guards against complacency like an obsessionist since losing to Matt Serra, Penn has embodied complacency too often, to be sure.
Which will it be? See there, that's the thing: We don't know. But after more than a year away from the fight game, there's something about Penn that transcends his 16-8-2 record and makes you want to believe him.
And that's what returns Saturday night -- Penn's unique air of mystery.
If the opportunity for a rematch with Carlos Condit presents itself, fast-rising welterweight contender Rory MacDonald will leap at it.
MacDonald wants that rematch, and isn’t shy about expressing his sentiment: Condit is the only fighter to beat him inside the Octagon. But don’t take MacDonald’s openness about wanting a rematch with Condit as evidence that he’s failing to focus on matters at hand. He has a fight Saturday night in Seattle with BJ Penn. And MacDonald is 100 percent determined to walk away from the cage that evening victorious.
The only reason he has mentioned Condit’s name over the past several weeks is that people have regularly requested his thoughts on the former UFC 170-pound interim titleholder.
And it is not part of MacDonald’s makeup to avoid answering questions truthfully.
“I answered those questions honestly,” MacDonald told ESPN.com. “I would like to fight Carlos next; that’s my honest answer.
“I completely understand what’s in front of me Saturday night. That is 100 percent my focus: BJ Penn on Dec. 8. I’m just honest with myself and honest with everybody in the media asking me questions. I don’t want to give half-truths or beat around the bush when asked a question.”
Honestly, MacDonald (13-1) knows no other way to communicate. It’s an essential part of his character and has played a major part in his development as a mixed martial artist. MacDonald is just 23 years old, but his age should not be considered when measuring his maturity level. One month before his 21st birthday, MacDonald relocated from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Montreal in 2010.
He traveled across Canada to begin full-time training at TriStar gym. The decision to move was easy for MacDonald; it was made a few days after his first professional loss.
“If you watch that fight, you can see the intensity in my face,” MacDonald said of his first meeting with Condit, a third-round TKO on June 12, 2010, at UFC 112. “And I fought that way. It’s not my style and I paid for it that night. He beat the [crap] out of me.”
As a result of that loss, MacDonald -- being honest -- concluded he needed to make a major change in order to take his career to the next level.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences and I’ve learned from every one of them,” MacDonald said. “That’s made me the person I am today.
“Moving to Montreal was the biggest experience.”
While that decision was easy, MacDonald had been making tough decisions for several years. From the age of 16 he’d been living on his own. He’s an independent thinker, though wise enough to listen to and accept any point of view that might prove beneficial. This formula has served MacDonald well thus far as a professional fighter.
Having one of the best trainers in mixed martial arts, Firas Zahabi, in his corner, and several top fighters for sparring partners -- including UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre -- have helped MacDonald improve in all areas of fighting.
Being honest, an independent thinker, mature beyond his years, confident and physically talented has placed MacDonald on the cusp of MMA greatness. Defeating Condit in a rematch would go a long way toward achieving the high expectations many have for MacDonald, but first he must take care of business Saturday night.
Penn is the most determined he’s been in many years. The former UFC lightweight/welterweight champion is motivated to again have his name mentioned as an all-time MMA great.
And Penn isn’t just offering lip service to promote the bout. He’s in the best shape ever for a 170-pound fight.
“It’s good for him that he respected me enough that he actually worked a little bit and got himself in shape, because he’s going to need it,” MacDonald said.
“At the end of the day I can’t control what type of shape BJ is going to be in or what level of skill he possesses. I can only control myself. If I start worrying or stressing about things I can’t control that’s just going to be a damper or weight on my shoulders that I feel I don’t need.”
That’s just MacDonald being honest again. And it’s another reason why the odds favor him leaving the cage Saturday night with his hand raised.
Condit, who is coming off a unanimous-decision loss to St-Pierre at UFC 154 on Nov. 17, might want to pay close attention to MacDonald on Saturday. The two could be back in the cage for a rematch sometime in 2013.
And next time around, MacDonald won’t be overwhelmed by the moment or an inexperienced fighter inside the Octagon.