Rory MacDonald’s recent loss to Gegard Mousasi wasn’t the first of his career, but it was the first time that “The Red King” had ever looked completely overmatched.
Though MacDonald has experienced setbacks in the past, outside of a flat performance against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson he has always performed at an elite level whether in victory or defeat. His first loss came at the hands of Carlos Condit when MacDonald was just 21 years old and it was a matchup that MacDonald mostly dominated until being finished with less than 10 seconds remaining in the bout.
His next two losses came at the hands of Robbie Lawler, the latter in a welterweight title match that is revered as one of the greatest fights in MMA history and only served to elevate MacDonald’s stature even though he came up short of capturing UFC gold.
His highlights include lopsided decision wins over names like Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, Jake Ellenberger, Nate Diaz, and. B.J. Penn, not to mention his two Bellator wins over Douglas Lima and Paul Daley that have resulted in him becoming the promotion’s 170-pound champion.
That status opened the door for a superfight with Mousasi, the Bellator middleweight champion, last September. The action went poorly for MacDonald as Mousasi finished him with strikes in round two.
With his flirtation at 185 pounds behind him, MacDonald is now set to defend his own title when he faces resurgent veteran Jon Fitch (32-7-1, 1 NC) in the main event of Bellator 220 this Saturday at SAP Center in San Jose, California, a clash that will air live on the DAZN streaming service.
MacDonald and his wife Olivia are also preparing for a second child and he feels like everything is lining up for him to have success in his first-ever title defense.
“We’re really focused right now, me and my wife,” MacDonald told MMA Fighting. “She’s a big part of my success and my job. She does a lot for me and we’ve been really dialed in on this fight camp, so I believe that the hard work is going to show in the fight. It always seems to.
“Me, myself, we were a little distracted with other things in my last fight and when you’re not focused in on such a big task, there’s room for error, and I think we learned our lesson from that and we’re really dialed in together and working hard and the rest of my team also, so I feel that this is going to be a very good fight for me.”
Asked if he still found himself thinking of becoming a two-division champion, MacDonald quickly dismissed the suggestion for now: “No, it kind of hasn’t been on my mind at all actually, to be honest.”
MacDonald has enough to worry about not just with Fitch, but the rest of the remaining field in Bellator’s Welterweight World Grand Prix. Saturday’s bout is both a title match and a tournament quarterfinal match, so MacDonald will have his championship on the line if he continues to advance.
As far as MacDonald knows, he doesn’t have an immediate rematch clause should he bow out of the Grand Prix early, which raises the stakes even more as the climb back to a title shot could be a long one. Still, even with the knowledge that Neiman Gracie awaits Saturday’s winner in the semifinals, MacDonald is remaining focused on the task at hand, just like he had to when he had both the Mousasi and Fitch fights on his docket at the same time.
“I’ve fought Douglas Lima before, so for the most part I understand what he’s about and what the fight’s like,” MacDonald said in regards to what lays ahead in the Grand Prix. “Neiman Gracie has a strong ground game as well as Fitch, so they have different skills obviously, but they’re not drastically different opponents with drastically different kinds of attacks to beat them. So I feel like it’s not too bad on me, I’m not stressed about it.”
Given his reputation and relative youth, MacDonald (20-5) will be entering Bellator 220 as a sizable favorite, but don’t expect him to underestimate Fitch. The 41-year-old has won his last five fights including a unanimous decision over Daley in his Bellator debut last May.
MacDonald and Fitch’s UFC careers overlapped for a few years before Fitch left the promotion in 2013 to sign with the World Series of Fighting (now the Professional Fighters League), where he won that organization’s welterweight title, so in a sense this is a matchup that has been a long time coming.
“I don’t like to take people lightly even if the odds are against them,” MacDonald said. “Jon has proven himself to be a hard-nosed competitor whenever he gets in there against anyone, so it would be foolish of me to take a guy like that lightly just because he’s in his forties.
“He’s the guy that’s fought the who’s who and he’s fought everywhere,” he continued. “He’s fought for world titles and all kinds of things, he’s been a world champion himself, and he’s at the top of the sport for a long time, so it’s quite nice to be fighting guys of his caliber.”
One intriguing name that didn’t emerge as a top contender until MacDonald himself had changed promotions is current UFC champion Kamaru Usman. The two have a shared opponent in Woodley, with both men holding convincing wins over “The Chosen One,” and although MacDonald said he doesn’t put much thought into a potential matchup with Usman given that it’s logistically improbable for them to fight anytime soon, he gave a glowing assessment when asked about Usman.
“He’s very good, one of the best welterweights in the world and he had a great performance against Tyron, dominated him, which is no easy task,” MacDonald said. “He’s very skilled and a tough guy so I have a lot of respect for him and he’s fun to watch.”
By the end of this year, MacDonald could have at least two successful title defenses to his name as well as a second child, which would go a long way towards erasing what was a bitter end to his 2018 campaign. He’ll also wrap up his 14th year as a pro fighter, which is stunning when you consider that he doesn’t turn 30 until this summer.
There’s a lot of unfinished business for MacDonald, but has he at least thought about what it will be like to hang up the gloves?
“Yeah, I think about it,” MacDonald said. “I don’t know yet, but I feel that God is going to open that door at the right time and the next chapter will begin. But right now I’m in this [chapter] and I have to do a good job and that’s it.
“The next door will open eventually, this career doesn’t last forever, it is on my mind, but right now I’m in this completely.”