At just 23-years-young, "Ares" -- who is now more than two years into his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tenure -- has been lauded as the future of the Welterweight division by his peers, including esteemed training partner and current 170-pound deity, Georges St. Pierre.
Until now, with the exception of a spirited (albeit losing) effort against Carlos Condit in 2010 and then a dominant decision win over a over-hydrated (albeit very talented) Nate Diaz, it's been seemingly hard for most mixed martial arts (MMA) fans to consider the Canadian a top division contender, much less a future champion.
Mike Pyle and Che Mills are certainly no pushovers, but beating them certainly shouldn't cement MacDonald's status as the heir apparent to St. Pierre's divisional throne. And I'm not really sure if a win over the remarkably fit and motivated Penn, a former two-division champion, at this stage of his career (1-3-1 since 2010) gets him over that hump.
But, it should start to get him close ... finally.
I'm not talking Johny Hendricks-type close, but maybe Nick Diaz-type close, which would also have the older brother revenge-type angle. Taking on an American Kickboxing (AKA)-type such as Jon Fitch (if he can defeat Demian Maia at UFC 156) or Josh Koscheck might be a another solid right of passage, too.
Jake Ellenberger and Dong Hyun Kim are also potential opponents, but the latter certainly won't get him any farther than a high-profile, and possibly highlight-reel victory over "The Prodigy" on network television.
To make a long story short, it's time for MacDonald to prove his potential or for the hype to die down. I'm a bold believer in MacDonald and his promise, ranking him just behind Hendricks as the third best fighter in the division. He seemingly has all the tools, training and tenacious temperament to carry St. Pierre's torch into the future once "Rush" feels he has beat all worthy 170-pound comers.
He's just missing the impressive resume, which has to change in less than a fortnight.
Perhaps the organization realized it gave MacDonald a bit too much too soon in the Condit fight, even though he was likely about 10 seconds away from scoring the upset. He's since been dialed back and groomed for a big fight in primetime against one of the sport's most decorated (albeit inconsistent) fighters ever.
Hell, the UFC even coaxed MacDonald into calling out the Hawaiian from retirement for this bout. And Penn took the bait hook, line and sinker, using it as an indirect way to exact revenge on St. Pierre, as well as use it as a platform to promote performance-enhancer free fighting.
Regardless, of Penn's emotional agenda, MacDonald's table has been set. It's now time for him to show up in Seattle, devour the appetizer and roll up his sleeves for a run to the top of the menu in 2013.
Boom or bust, baby.