From fighting a relatively unproven Che Mills in the co-main event at UFC 145 to facing a mixed martial arts (MMA) legend and future hall-of-famer in his next bout in the form of former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight and Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn at UFC 152 on Sept. 22, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Rory MacDonald's level of competition has taken quite a significant jump.
Sure, the general consensus is that "The Prodigy's" best days are behind him and the young MacDonald could steamroll past the Hawaiian, much like he did against Mills in Atlanta, but Penn has other plans and is determined to go out on top in what will be his last fight.
Though the "W" is the most important thing on Penn's mind, he also has another item on his agenda, getting even with Tri-Star gym, which houses Rory and current UFC 170-pound kingpin Georges St. Pierre, with whom Penn has a very personal history with. "Rush" owns two victories over "The Prodigy," defeating him via split decision at UFC 58 in 2006 and then once more at UFC 94 via technical-knockout (doctor's stoppage) in a bout filled with controversy.
On the other hand, the fight is a chance for MacDonald to put himself "in the mix" and catapult himself up the very crowded UFC welterweight ladder, inching him closer to a title shot and proving to the MMA world he does belong inside the same Octagon as the upper echelon fighters. Regardless of the history between Penn and Tri-Star, MacDonald says the fight is between he and Penn.
Check out what the 23-year old had to say to MMA Frenzy:
"The UFC had expressed interest in seeing Penn and I fight. At the time I had no idea that BJ was considering coming out of retirement. So I thought I would jump at the chance to fight him. I believe that this sport is performance based. If BJ and I go out there and put on a boring fight no one will want to see me fight the other top guys currently in the spotlight. On the flip side I can put on an exciting, technical fight and walk away victorious then it puts me in the mix and in the top five of the welterweight division."
Training alongside St. Pierre, "Ares" has a wealth of knowledge to absorb from his training partner. Though he won't mind getting a few pointers from the champ, the young Canadian knows at the end of the day, when he steps into the Octagon, it will be up to him to get the job done:
"When it comes to fighting I can only rely on myself. Of course Georges can give me pointers and tips, but in the end, it's my fight and not his."
Should Rory come up short against Penn with a lackluster performance, his statement that no one will want to see him fight the top-tier caliber fighters could very well ring true. In a division where the current line for a title shot stretches all the way around the corner, MacDonald needs a win to avoid dropping down the totem pole and being forced to start from scratch.
Can the scrappy veteran pull out an impressive victory over his much younger foe? Or will MacDonald earn another impressive notch under his belt, and Tri-Star's for that matter?