The traveling circus that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship unfurled their big top in the Canadian capital of Ottawa for the first time Saturday night, and a couple of the Great White North’s finest were in the main and co-main events.
One of them was trying to work his way back from a terrible beating in one of the most amazing fights ever authored in the young sport of MMA. The other was looking to squeeze into title contention after being left for dead as a serious player many moons ago.
Unfortunately for the home fans, neither fighter was able to notch what could have been a career-defining victory. Rory MacDonald came up short against a very skilled opponent in Stephen Thompson, while Patrick Cote was brushed aside rather easily by Donald Cerrone. It was a rough night, to say the least, for the Canadian contingent atop the card.
MacDonald was fighting out the last match on his contract and had hoped to reestablish himself as the top contender for Robbie Lawler’s welterweight title. It was the very belt that seemed to be well within MacDonald’s reach 11 months ago, before Lawler pummeled him into submission in the final round of their epic “Fight of the Year” at UFC 189. It was not to be.
Thompson was a step ahead of the Canadian just about every step of the way and easily outpointed MacDonald to set up an expected showdown with Lawler or Tyron Woodley, who are scheduled to scrap at UFC 201 on July 30. It was a disappointing showing for MacDonald who had pledged to give it his all as he was poised to hit free agency. He offered no excuses after the bout and gave all the credit to Thompson. That was a classy thing to do but it isn’t going to help him at the negotiating table.
Many insiders believe MacDonald has been destined to end up in the Bellator cage for some time now, but a pair of losses -- despite them coming at the hands of the champion and No. 1 contender -- could hinder his bargaining position with the promotion. Let’s face it: as good of a fighter as MacDonald can be, his lack of charisma may affect his chances of landing the kind of deal he is thought to be seeking.
I also wonder about MacDonald’s physical condition after the damage he sustained in the Lawler fight and in training for the Thompson bout. In his post-fight interview, MacDonald talked about how he had multiple issues and was going to need surgery now. I’m not sure when we might expect him back in the cage, no matter where he ends up signing a contract.
Hopefully, MacDonald will get himself healed up, physically and mentally, and can find his way back to the top of the 170-pound division. Going through a grueling title fight and now dealing with the pressure of fighting out his contract seems to have taken a toll. He is still a young guy, and perhaps an extended stint on the bench after surgery will help him recharge his battery and get him ready to return with a vengeance.
The other headlining bout featured cagey veteran Cote, who first traipsed to the octagon nearly 12 years ago. He’d fought as big as light heavyweight but had been on a nice little run since returning to the big show as a reinvented welterweight. At 170 pounds, he’d rung up three straight wins in the last year or so, getting people talking about a possible title shot.
I don’t want to be a jerk, but it was hard to take the talk of a Cote championship run seriously. Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman and Ben Saunders were the three casualties of Cote’s hot streak. They’re some tough guys who are on the back ends of their careers -- not exactly the who’s who of the welterweight division.
If you listened to “Cheap Seats” the last couple of weeks, you would have heard Jordan Breen and I implore you to sell everything you own, take out as many payday loans and borrow as much cash as you could get your hands on and dump it all on Cerrone. At -150 to -160, it was a freaking steal. Now, I know some of you were led astray by some of our media brethren who kept espousing the belief that Cote would be “too big” for Cerrone, but those of you who listened are sleeping on a pile of cash tonight.
As for “Cowboy,” let’s all take a moment to reflect on how this rejuvenated Cote story got crackling before we start anointing him the next big thing at welterweight. A couple wins over middling competition do not make you a legit contender, and Cerrone is in the same boat at this point. Alex Oliveira and Cote should not be cards one is holding when they push their entire stack into the middle of the table.
I think Cerrone has looked good, but let’s see him against a top-15 welterweight before we start beating that drum. While I’m sure not cutting as much weight does help some, fighting at 170 pounds makes Cerrone one of the smaller welterweights in the division. He’ll have to figure out how to stop the bigger fighters in the division from pressuring him -- something he’s had difficulty with even at lightweight -- as he steps up in competition.
I’m not saying Cerrone won’t be successful in his new division. I’m just warning people that it is way too early to start penciling him in for a fight with even a top-5 guy in the weight class, much less a date with Lawler. If Cerrone decides to stay at welterweight, he’ll have every opportunity to earn his title shot against ranked fighters.
I know everyone loves the sentimental favorites and the odd feel-good story, but this is the hurt business. It isn’t often that those accounts end in fairy-tale fashion. It didn’t happen for Cote or MacDonald on Saturday night. We’ll see what happens with Cerrone as he embarks on this new chapter of his crazy professional life.
Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of Sherdog.com and he can be reached by email or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.