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MacDonald on finishes, risks, titles, more

Shortly after Rory MacDonald defeated Tyron Woodley at UFC 174 in June, Firas Zahabi entered the Octagon and lifted MacDonald onto his shoulders.

After setting him down, Zahabi -- the head coach of Tristar Gym -- moved in the direction of UFC president Dana White, who mouthed something to him from his front row seat.

Zahabi couldn't hear over the arena noise. Was White trying to say MacDonald just earned a UFC welterweight title shot? Zahabi had to know -- like, immediately. So, instead of walking to the cage door and back around to White's seat, Zahabi vaulted himself over the fence.

"Rory had a great performance, and I said to Dana, I thought our next stop should be the title," MacDonald told ESPN.com. "He said something I didn't hear, so I jumped over to find out."

Unfortunately, what White was trying to relay to Zahabi was that no, the winner of a scheduled bout between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown the following month was still next in line for the title.

In a way, the simple gesture of Zahabi launching over the Octagon wall to speak to White symbolizes where he and MacDonald are at. Both understood the UFC's decision to ultimately book a rematch between Johny Hendricks and Lawler for the title, but they're ready for the shot as soon as possible. Zahabi, clearly, can barely contain his enthusiasm.

That potentially places a lot of pressure on MacDonald (17-2) headed into this weekend, when he'll face Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is already a clear candidate to face the winner of the Hendricks-Lawler fight Dec. 6. A win will basically hold his spot. A loss, obviously, would set him back.

MacDonald, 25, didn't necessarily consider that at UFC 174, when he said he was willing to accept another fight and not sit and wait for a title shot. He just wanted the UFC to know he deferred to them.

"I actually did ask to have a little break, but the UFC wanted me to fight and kind of felt like I needed to do it," MacDonald said. "So, I said yes, so I can make the UFC happy and fight for the belt. I'm doing what I have to do in my career to get to my goal.

"I definitely didn't ask for this fight, but I accepted it."

Despite the risk involved, Zahabi said he was a proponent of MacDonald fighting again before reaching a title fight. He referenced Georges St-Pierre's activity level when he recaptured the title in 2008 -- four fights in 12 months at the age of 26. This weekend will mark MacDonald's fourth fight in 11 months.

"I don't think of this fight as raising his profile," Zahabi said. "I think of it as a learning experience. It's going to give him something he can use one day as a champion. It's about feeding the monster. It's hard to train somebody who isn't motivated by a fight. When Georges won the title back, that was his fourth fight in a year. We generated a lot of momentum."

Even though MacDonald is likely next in line regardless of how he might beat Saffiedine (15-3), a finish would certainly put a stamp on this title run.

After recording finishes in three of his first five fights in the UFC, MacDonald has now gone nearly 30 months without one. His last four wins have come via decision -- and he admits a contingent of his fan base is starting to let him know about it.

"Once in awhile, some fans will say, 'You should try finishing a fight for once in your life,'" laughed MacDonald. "I don't take it too personal.

"I definitely care about finishing. That makes a statement that you're better than the other guy. Obviously, I want that. Fifteen minutes isn't a lot of time to finish top-level competitors. I think 25 minutes is way better. If you want to take risks at this level, you need to be prepared for the bad that comes with it. I really think risk needs to be worth the reward. I try to break my opponent down slowly, so that for sure the reward is there when I take my risk."

Well, in this particular fight, the risk was already evident the second MacDonald agreed to it. He's risking his spot in line against a dangerous opponent Saturday. The reward will be that hopefully, Zahabi won't have to jump over a cage to ask whether or not they're next.

"I don't think you ever completely know, because this business is always changing," Zahabi said. "But I think if Rory has a great fight and wins the heart of the fans, he'll get a title shot."