Rory MacDonald is finally having his time in the spotlight. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Having trained in the shadow of retired champion Georges St. Pierre for years, Rory MacDonald is no stranger to great expectations.
MacDonald, a Canadian welterweight who calls Tristar Gym home, was tabbed as St. Pierre’s heir apparent in the early stages of his rise to prominence in the UFC. And when he began to fulfill his considerable potential in the Octagon, he was often asked about a future matchup with his acclaimed training partner.
St. Pierre stepped away from the sport before those queries could intensify, however. On the same night when St. Pierre had what turned out to be his swan song against Johny Hendricks, MacDonald had a five-fight winning streak snapped by a rejuvenated Robbie Lawler.
Suddenly, MacDonald’s prospects had cooled. Not being the Next Big Thing has its perks, though, and with St. Pierre enjoying life outside of MMA, “The Red King” regrouped with triumphs over Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley and Tarec Saffiedine in his next three fights.
Now, MacDonald’s time in the spotlight has officially arrived, as he will attempt to avenge his loss to Lawler -- and claim welterweight gold -- in the UFC 189 co-main event on July 11. According to the man himself, his moment is arriving at just the right time.
“When I got into the UFC I knew I wasn’t ready to fight for the belt. I still had a lot of growing to do,” MacDonald said during a Wednesday conference call. “I needed a lot of experience with top level guys. It took time, but step by step I gained that experience. I kept practicing techniques, developing new styles and keeping an open mind as a martial artist. I’m here. The road doesn’t end here after this. The life of a martial artist it keeps going. After my career is over I’m still going to be training martial arts and growing in this.”
In embracing mixed martial arts as a lifetime sport, MacDonald mirrors the philosophy of St. Pierre, who continues to train despite what appears to be a lukewarm interest, at best, in making a comeback. Although it seems as though MacDonald has been around forever, he will only be 25 years old when he squares off with Lawler at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Perceptions can be skewed when one is fighting grown men as a teenager, as MacDonald did early in his professional career.
“It’s awesome. I love what I do and I love my life. I’m just going to continue to do what I like in my life. It’s been an incredible journey,” MacDonald said. “It’s a martial arts journey, in my years as a teenager and growing up into a man with it. It’s been incredible. I’m just focused now on having the best performance of my life and leaving it all out there July 11.”
MacDonald says he hasn’t really looked back on his first meeting with Lawler. Both men have grown since that November 2013 date; MacDonald through three straight triumphs over divisional contenders, and Lawler through 10 championship rounds against Hendricks.
“I don’t really look at it at all . I’ve come a long way since that fight. I’ve practiced new techniques and I’ve become a whole new fighter since then,” he said. “I’m focused on bringing a new attitude and just a better version of myself into this fight.”
Although MacDonald has been tabbed as a fighter to watch for years, he doesn’t feel burdened by expectations heading into his first title shot. Getting to this point was a process, and MacDonald feels like he is prepared to succeed at the highest level.
“I’m not really trying to prove anything. I believe I have a new attitude. I’ve come a long way and I feel at my best right now,” he said. “I’m just gonna go in there and show that to the world. I’m just gonna perform. The rest will take care of itself.”