Rory MacDonald, cautionary tale when anointing next UFC divisional king

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

The Rory MacDonald hype train came to a screeching halt this past Saturday at UFC 167, running head-long into a brick wall in the form of "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler. Were members of MMA media premature to anoint "Ares" the heir apparent to Georges St. Pierre's welterweight throne? Find out below.

The problem with royal succession is that, much like Forrest Gump's portentous box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

Take England's King Henry VI for instance. Son of a warlike badass who laid such a hurting on the French he was eventually named heir and regent of the nation by the Treaty of Troyes, Henry VI turned out to be a pussy-whipped milksop. Also something of a holy fool, Henry was so busy building metaphysical castles in the clouds, obscuring his own mind, that he didn't notice the Duke of York preparing a challenge to his throne that would sink England into civil war.

It was a blind, albeit popular, initial consensus that ultimate led to the spaced-out monarch's imprisonment in the Tower of London and subsequent murder.

If English history isn't your cup of afternoon tea, take the case of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Rory MacDonald. For awhile now the book on "Ares" has centered around the question of not if, but when, he would challenge for the 170-pound crown held by his friend and training partner, Georges St-Pierre.

All that changed Saturday night (Nov. 16, 2013), however, when MacDonald found himself on the losing end of a three-round decision against long-time mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler at UFC 167, which took place at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

For passengers aboard the R-Mac Express, the beating he suffered at the hands of Lawler must have come as something of a jolt. How could the new, technically immaculate face of the Welterweight division find himself outworked by an old school brawler with terrible, and rather recent, losses on his record to inferior fighters like Renato Sobral and Lorenz Larkin?

Well, for starters, it could be we were all a bit too anxious to name MacDonald the heir apparent to St. Pierre's Welterweight throne. Sure, MacDonald looked like a killer in his victories over Mike Pyle, Che Mills and, most notably, his three-round mugging of an old and undersized B.J. Penn.

But, a few solid performances does not a divisional monarch make.

Maybe, in our haste to appoint a new top-Welterweight who would eventually succeed St. Pierre, we overlooked signs that MacDonald -- while admittedly a hell of a fighter -- just isn't a generational talent like his TriStar-trained teammate.

After Saturday it sure feels like there was an artificial push to make MacDonald something he's not. Heck, in our collective over-eagerness to get MacDonald over as a star, some of us even went so far as to fabricate a contrived persona for the charisma-deficient Welterweight.

Desperate for an angle to discuss a guy who was so monotone he sounded like the long lost love child of Ben Stein and a train conductor with a pill problem, somewhere along the line the MMA media re-branded MacDonald as a foppish dandy with ice water running through his veins, one who might just end up going down as the Jeffery Dahmer of the Savile Row set before all was said and done.

The truth is, MacDonald isn't a "Canadian Psycho." He's just a shy, socially awkward athlete who is focused on becoming the best fighter he can be.

For MacDonald, part of that focus on being the best means using his expert ability to manage distance and his impressive top game to absorb as little punishment as possible over the course of a fight. In theory it's a great idea -- not only does taking less of a beating extend a fighter's career, but if you're hitting your opponent and not getting hit yourself for the majority of three rounds, odds are judges will see the bout in your favor.

Of course the obvious problem with this conservative style, favored by MacDonald and so many of his TriStar brethren is, that while it may win fights, it leaves fans colder than a Siberian witches' cha cha's in the depths of winter.

In a sport where the central aim of all promoters is to convince fans to either pay to see fights or make time to watch them on television, a fighter who wins boring decisions is going to have a long, hard road to a title shot. After all, there's nothing worse for a promoter than an unmarketable champion. If you don't believe me, just ask former Bellator Welterweight champion Ben Askren (or, even better, UFC President Dana White) or former perennial No. 2-ranked fighter Jon Fitch.

Still, despite ample precedence that playing it safe isn't the way to get ahead in this sport, on nearly every UFC card fans are "treated" to at least one risk-adverse performance that is about as stimulating as a shot of local anesthetic to the eyeball. What's worse, more often than not these elusive masters of footwork and suffocating grappling pressure end up getting their hands raised at the end of the fight, which only serves to further alienate fans.

For MMA aficionados fed up with fighters who are seemingly auditioning for shows like "Dancing With the Stars" or "Wall and Stalling With the Undercard Jabronies," Lawler's victory over MacDonald was a symbolic check mark in the win column. Part of what made the bout so exciting was that it represented a clash of two diametrically opposed mindsets, and for once, it was the inner Julian Lang in every fight fan -- that caveman-relic deep down in our reptile brain that can only get its rocks off by watching two people throwing down and banging, bro -- who was getting the best of the action in the cage.

If Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald didn't serve as a reminder to fighters that, while talk of "human chess" and all that pretentious jazz is all well and good, what fans really want to see is a fight where two people are letting it all hang out in an attempt to get a "W" and walk home with the winner's purse, then I fear for the future of MMA.

However, it also should have served as a reminder to those of us pundits who, to a lesser or greater degree, have a hand in shaping the narrative of the sport.

While it makes great copy to verbally crown a new king before the old one has even abdicated the throne, it might be best to err on the side of caution with up-and-coming contenders like MacDonald until they've done more to prove themselves.

After all, we sure end up looking silly in hindsight when the man we've built up as the new emperor ends up getting the pants beat off him before even getting a chance to contend for the belt.

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