There have always been shades of romanticism linked with the struggle and adversity connected to combat sports.
The lofty dream-like haze of a young fighter from any number of hard-scrabble cities around the globe, determined to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming a world champion despite what appeared to be insurmountable odds. The discovery of resilience as it is tapped into for the first time when the fighter suddenly finds himself the nail rather than the hammer, but still manages to overcome the test and rises to the occasion.
Yet, where many of those journeys end in brutal and unforgiving fashion, there are those who manage to obtain their goals and achieve the ultimate dream. Their victories at pivotal junctures under the bright lights of competition serve to further inspire the imagination of those watching, and have the power to carry on for generations to come.
Shortly after his arrival to the UFC back in back in 2010, a then 21-year-old Rory MacDonald appeared poised for greatness inside the Octagon. Not only was the highly touted prospect a well-rounded and dangerous fighter in every aspect of the game, but training side-by-side with pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre and world renowned coach Firas Zahabi produced a heavy credibility that factored into the “Red King” being anointed as the heir apparent to the coveted welterweight crown.
And while the now 25-year-old British Columbia native’s path to a long-awaited title shot has not come free of adversity, MacDonald believes every step good or bad was necessary in order to prepare him for the moment that is quickly arriving. The Tristar representative will face champion Robbie Lawler in the co-main event at UFC 189 in a fight that has the potential to not only carve out MacDonald’s place in the sport once and for all, but also bring a destiny that has been long imagined to reality.
“This journey I’ve been on has been crazy, but at the same time, it’s everything I ever imagined and worked so hard for,” MacDonald said. “Everything is coming together like I hoped for, planned for and worked for. Everything is feeling very natural right now and that is because I’ve prepared for it.
“I can feel everything coming together for me. All of the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to get to here - all the hard work from my teammates and coaches, the wins and the losses - everything involved has been a great experience and it’s made me who I am now. It’s made me ready to step to the front of the sport and become a champion.”
Although there has been title talk surrounding MacDonald for years, he’s been in no hurry to reach the ultimate destination. The up-and-coming title challenger entered the highest level of competition in MMA at a very young age, and understood crucial experience was needed before the tools were acquired to make his championship dream come true.
While the current landscape of MMA has everything moving at express lane speed, MacDonald and Zahabi showed patience as they put the focus on the young contender’s progression. He believes that approach has paid tremendous dividends and has prepared him to take the biggest step of his career and become the new welterweight champion.
“Coming into the sport as young as I did, I knew experience was going to play a huge factor in my career and progression,” MacDonald said. “I am not a guy like Chris Weidman who just burst onto the scene and a title very early on. I’m not one of those naturally gifted athletes or a fighter who comes from an accomplished wrestling background where they have a long history of competition.
“I came to this with just mixed martial arts because that’s the only thing I had experience in, and my career has been a progression of that experience. I had to go through the things I’ve gone through to get to this point and the journey has been amazing.”
When MacDonald steps into the Octagon to face Lawler in front of a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Arena, the past, present and future will collide in what is sure to be a memorable affair. The two elite-level welterweights met previously in an action-packed tilt at UFC 167 in November of 2013, with “Ruthless” edging out MacDonald to take the split-decision victory on the judges’ scorecards.
It was only the second time in his professional career the Tristar fighter had been bested, and while the loss served to cool off his push for a title opportunity for the time being, the experience garnered from going 15 minutes with Lawler was something MacDonald could use to further his overall progression. And even though MacDonald hasn’t spent any time focusing on what occurred during his first go with the current champion back in 2013, he does admit the fight served a much bigger purpose.
MacDonald has been fighting grown men since the age of 14 and competing against the best competition in the world for half a decade, and the education and evolution he’s earned, endured and captured over that time has put him within striking distance of the biggest achievement of his young career.
The dream of getting a UFC belt strapped around his waist is one that has hovered - and some would say waited - for him his entire career, and MacDonald is determined to bring it to fruition at UFC 189. He believes every time he’s stepped into the Octagon, all the training sessions logged and new techniques added and mastered inside the gym have all combined to bring him to where he now stands.
Whether that place is viewed as the cusp of becoming the next welterweight champion or romance is once again tapped to envision a potential MacDonald victory as the official signal that the next era of mixed martial arts - one he was long ago christened to lead - has finally arrived, the one thing that is certain is MacDonald’s belief that his time has finally arrived.
He’s not thinking about the fight being a rematch or reliving the three rounds he spent trading leather with Lawler back in 2013. MacDonald is only thinking about the here and now, and the performance that will be required for his step into greatness to be completed.
“I’m not focusing on the first fight because I believe we have both made a lot of improvements since then,” MacDonald said. “I have come a long way since that first fight and have added a lot of new techniques and had several other fights since then. I know I’m a completely different fighter than when I initially fought Robbie, and I trust in the fact that those improvements are going to be enough to defeat him in this fight.
“I have worked very hard to get to this point and I truly feel everything is coming together for me. I am ready to become a champion.”