Rory MacDonald’s antics caught some by surprise at UFC on Fox 5. | Ezra Shaw/Zuffa LLC/UFC
UFC on Fox 5 provided viewers with a smorgasbord of MMA goodness on Saturday, with plenty of fodder for water cooler and forum discussion in the coming days.
There was the all-around brilliance of Benson Henderson, who generated as much buzz for his alleged toothpick wizardry as he did for his stifling dominance of Nate Diaz. There was the continued progression of promising light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson, who dismissed former 205-pound champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the co-main event and proclaimed himself to be the division’s No. 1 contender shortly thereafter. There was the proliferation of 10-8 rounds, raising further questions as to what truly constitutes overwhelming dominance. Finally, there was a little bit of promotional gamesmanship, as Bellator Fighting Championships had the audacity to buy a commercial spot for its upcoming season on Spike TV during the Fox broadcast.
Through it all, Rory MacDonald remained the compelling figure of the evening.
Somewhere along the line, between the awkward “Road to the Octagon” segments, the unnerving sound bites and the dissect-and-taunt act against a faded legend, MacDonald became the most unlikeable character in the UFC on Fox 5 ensemble.
Before you unload on me for making a mountain out of a molehill, remember that unlikeable is a relative term. By most accounts, MacDonald is a quiet, unassuming kid who dropped everything to train at the Tristar Gym in Montreal and is now making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He does not have a criminal record. He is not a dirty fighter. He seems to want to do things the right way. For all I know, MacDonald could be the most decorated human being this side of Tim Tebow.
Yet, behind my unbiased-member-of-the-media facade, I found it exceedingly easy to root against MacDonald, even against an opponent as polarizing as B.J. Penn. Clearly I was not alone in this endeavor, as it appeared that the majority of those in attendance at Seattle’s Key Arena shared my sentiments. The dislike for MacDonald was about more than mere national pride; remember, Tristar Gym teammate and fellow Canadian Georges St. Pierre is among the most popular fighters and biggest pay-per-view draws in the sport today.
It was not just a groundswell of support for Penn, either. The Hawaiian is undoubtedly one of the sport’s all-time greats, but he can be plenty abrasive when he wants to be. No, this was more about MacDonald than it was about anyone -- or anything -- else.
The 23-year-old dresses like a Bond villain, sounds like Hannibal Lecter’s apprentice and fights like the heir apparent to St. Pierre’s welterweight throne. He does not ooze charisma and charm, quite the opposite in fact, but his affinity for the Octagon means he is going to be around for quite some time, like it or not.
“I’d like people to think that I’m a good person, that I’m pretty easy to talk to,” MacDonald said during an interview on the UFC on Fox 5 “Road to the Octagon” show. “I’m quiet, obviously, until I get comfortable with people, but that’s just who I am. I think it’d just be nice if people accepted who people were, you know?”
Stardom does not really work that way. The average fan cannot relate to the fact that MacDonald and his good pal, “The Ultimate Fighter 16” finalist Mike Ricci, almost threw down over a pair of red pants. They do not understand why the precocious Canadian chose to taunt Penn when a finish appeared within reach. As the jeers rained down on him in the aftermath of his one-sided decision against “The Prodigy,” MacDonald did little to sway the popular opinion when he insisted on taking the microphone from UFC analyst Joe Rogan.
“There’s a guy that humiliated me a couple years ago and I want my revenge,” MacDonald said, as if recalling a high school bully from years gone by. “Carlos Condit -- I want a rematch. Accept my challenge. Let’s do it in March. I’m going to get my revenge.”
Cue the ominous music, some maniacal laughter from MacDonald and then fade to black. That is how the Hollywood version would go, anyway.
Two-and-a-half years ago, a 20-year-old MacDonald came within seven seconds of defeating Condit at UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Likely ahead two rounds to none on the judges’ scorecards, MacDonald had no answer for Condit’s furious final ground-and-pound salvo that forced a stoppage to the bout mere moments from its conclusion. To this day, backers of MacDonald claim that Condit was fortunate to emerge victorious. Even then, MacDonald knew that luck had nothing to do with it.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what was going on,” MacDonald said after the loss. “I thought [it was] the end of the round until they called the TKO, but it was a just stoppage. He was kicking my ass.”
So what happened between then and now? After beating a man who has struggled against all welterweights not named Matt Hughes in recent years, what makes MacDonald so sure that he deserves another shot at an opponent who gave St. Pierre his stiffest test in recent memory?
MacDonald is a better, more confident fighter than he was in 2010, and he is clearly coming into his own as a high-level contender in the division. Part of that growth process involves personality. While labeling someone a heel seems like it should be reserved for the sports entertainment set, it applies to the world of mixed martial arts. MacDonald seems to have fallen into this role by default, but it has its advantages.
On the basis of his talents alone, MacDonald will remain beloved in his home country. Acceptance could be hard to come by elsewhere, particularly from those who were turned off by his display of arrogance against Penn during the fight and his awkwardness after. Neither, of course, is a concern to MacDonald himself.
Regardless of how you perceive him, MacDonald is right where he needs to be. As MMA’s newest villain, he is simply too good to be ignored.