Although it feels like he’s already been around forever, Rory MacDonald is still just 27 years old.
Perhaps it seems that way because “The Red King” has the resume of a fighter many years his senior. During his tenure in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, MacDonald defeated current welterweight king Tyron Woodley, would-be No. 1 contender Demian Maia, all-time great B.J. Penn, pay-per-view needle-mover Nate Diaz and ex-Strikeforce king Tarec Saffiedine, to name a few. And that doesn’t even include his championship fight against Robbie Lawler at UFC 194, where MacDonald raised his stock even in defeat by being part of one the most memorable brawls in MMA history.
Nonetheless, MacDonald enters his Bellator debut on the heels of back-to-back losses, and he recognizes that MMA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of venture. He knows that he will have to begin to prove himself all over again when he squares off against Paul Daley in the Bellator 179 headliner in London on Saturday night.
“That’s just the nature of the sport. You’re only as good as your last performance and people are easy to write off fighters if they have a bad loss or bad outing,” MacDonald said during a recent media call. “They’re done. It’s just a natural thing for critics to say. I never really put too much worry into that. I still think I have a lot more to prove in my career. May 19 will be the start of that.”
MacDonald signed with Bellator last summer, but his debut was delayed as the Tristar Gym product waited for his nose, which was initially shattered by Lawler at UFC 194, to completely heal. The injury was still a hindrance when MacDonald lost his final Octagon appearance to Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night 89 last June. By the time he steps into the cage with Daley, it will have been nearly a year since his last fight, but MacDonald doesn’t expect the layoff to be a significant factor.
“The layoff wasn’t a big issue for me. A fight’s a fight. I can fight anyplace, anytime, anywhere, against anybody,” he said. “The problem with that fight was my training. I really screwed up and tried to be a karate kickboxer. Tried to beat my opponent at his own game. I made that mistake too many times, tried to change my style every single fight.”
In that sense, the time off was a blessing for MacDonald, who was able to rediscover what made him successful in the first place.
“I’ve made a lot of changes from the way I was training for that fight [against Thompson]. I made the mistake of overthinking my opponent and adapting my style every single fight…trying to learn new martial arts and new techniques and really getting away from my strengths,” he said. “The past 11 months off has really been focused on getting back to my strengths and getting back to the basics. I’m feeling at my best because of the work I’ve put in.”
MacDonald is easily among the most high-profile signees to leave the UFC for Bellator during the Scott Coker regime. If he can recapture his old form, the acquisition will look that much better for the California-based promotion. For MacDonald, the move already seems to be paying dividends even though he hasn’t yet thrown a punch for his new employer.
“Basically I’ve been more in touch with the promoters. Getting my outlooks on things, how I want things to go when it comes to the promotion of myself. Just more involved, rather than just being another guy in the line, another number or another sheep,” MacDonald said. “I just feel more respected. More attention to detail when it comes to the promotion of myself.
“Because I think Bellator gets it that they want to build the character around every guy on the roster. They want to build up the names and let people see the real side of them. The UFC has lost that, everybody is wearing the same thing. Everybody is trying to be Conor McGregor, so it’s lost its feel a little bit.”
With that in mind, MacDonald is excited for his new beginning. He established himself as one of the top welterweights in the world in the UFC, and now MacDonald expects to be reborn in the Bellator cage come Saturday night.
“It feels like Chapter 3 of my career at this point: A big organization move. And just coming off the two losses I’ve had and the changes I made in my training,” he said. “I’ve noticed a big difference in my mindset, my physical abilities, my martial art abilities. I’m very excited to make my debut in Bellator and show the changes I’ve made in this layoff. I think it will get people excited for the future fights.”