Not too long ago, Rory MacDonald was one of the most talked about welterweights in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and one of the most promising 170-pound prospects in the organization. A great athlete coming out of one of the most renowned camps in the world, TriStar, he was regarded as one of the sport's "next big thing," a next generation fighter.
After impressing in a strong effort against Carlos Condit at UFC 115, "Ares" became a fighter known to many fans, who many wanted to succeed in the Octagon. After dominating Nate Diaz at UFC 129, MacDonald put a definitive stamp on his reputation as one of the most promising fighters in MMA. He followed this performance up with impressive wins over Mike Pyle, Che Mills (a killer!), B.J. Penn and Jake Ellenberger, making a name for himself as not only "one for the future," but a fighter who is very relevant right now.
Then, he fought Robbie Lawler, and the results were much different. Lawler gave MacDonald no respect, bringing the fight to him in a very impressive performance despite ending as a split decision. Lawler exposed a crucial hole in MacDonald's game: His striking defense. MacDonald was caught time and time again because he couldn't effectively stop Lawler's pressure, getting caught many times by the notoriously powerful "Ruthless" punches.
Later tonight (Sat., Feb. 22, 2014), MacDonald will face another very tough veteran, Demian Maia, on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 170, which takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Maia has shown of late that he has developed his grappling skills into a pressure-based style, often sticking to his opponents like glue and never giving them a moment's rest.
This is something MacDonald has yet to encounter even though he has faced good wrestlers and grapplers. None have the skill on the mat of Maia, and none were more relentless than Maia has shown to be in some of his recent performances.
Where he was once thought to be a fighter who could be a contender with his current skill set, MacDonald will now have to prove that he can't be exploited by experienced grapplers. Barring some incredibly early finish, Maia will almost definitely test MacDoanld in this department and we'll just have to wait and see how MacDonald reacts.
MacDonald is in need of a win if he has any hope of fighting for a title in the near future; however, that will be no easy task against a veteran like Maia. MacDoanld is a good grappler, but he has never faced anyone with the experience, technique and approach that Maia presents, which makes this a very important fight for him.
After a major flaw in his game was exposed in his last bout, MacDonald will need to show tonight that he doesn't have any more exploitable faults in his skill set. Maia will challenge MacDonald for as long as he can, and it is up to MacDonald to prove his worth. If MacDonald wins impressively, he is one step closer to making himself a legitimate contender at 170 pounds.
If he fails, he will fall considerably down the rankings, effectively stripping much of the hype that has surrounded his name for some time.