This Saturday night (June 14, 2014), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley will go to war in the co-main event of UFC 174, airing live on pay-per-view (PPV) at 10 p.m. EST from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The blockbuster bout was originally thought to be contested for a shot at returning champion Johny Hendricks later this fall, but that honor was bestowed upon July 26's UFC on FOX 12 headliner between Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown.
No. 2-ranked MacDonald was last seen winning an impressive decision over former middleweight title challenger Demian Maia at UFC 170 in February. After getting taken down and controlled by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard in the first round, "Ares" returned in the later rounds to take over the bout with his technical striking.
After what seemed like a lifetime spent in the shadow of former UFC welterweight champion and good friend Georges St. Pierre, the pressure is on the highly touted MacDonald to assume his place as the 170-pound division's heir apparent.
To accomplish that feat, he'll have to defeat a mountain of a challenge in the No. 3-ranked Woodley, who last seen dismantling former interim champ Carlos Condit with an injury stoppage at UFC 171 in March. It was an anticlimactic finish to a big fight, but it still gave Woodley a massive boost up the rankings after his third finish in four fights. With only two losses in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, "Chosen One" could be on a path towards greatness.
That path starts in Vancouver this Saturday.
A win here will have the victor extremely close to a shot at coveted gold. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for MacDonald vs. Woodley:
Record: 16-2 overall, 7-2 UFC
Key Wins: Demian Maia (UFC 170), Jake Ellenberger (UFC on FOX 8), B.J. Penn (UFC on FOX 5)
Key Losses: Robbie Lawler (UFC 167), Carlos Condit (UFC 115)
Keys to Victory: Long thought to be the next UFC welterweight titleholder, MacDonald is surgically precise finisher with six knockouts and six submissions in 16 total wins.
However, an interesting fact of note is that "Canadian Psycho" hasn't finished a fight since his UFC 145 technical knockout of Chael Mills in April 2012. If he wants to be considered for a title shot sooner than later, he'd be well served to put a stamp on Woodley this weekend. While that will be easier said than done, there's no better time than now for the 24-year-old MacDonald to begin fulfilling his massive promise.
To do so, he has to use his technical striking, excellent conditioning, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to outlast the powerful Woodley. "Chosen One" will come out of the gates with a vengeance; it's on MacDonald to disrupt his forward motion with a steady torrent of jabs and precise combinations.
He also needs to be prepared to stop the dangerous takedown game of Woodley. His mat skills will prove invaluable for this task, and could even open the door for a surprise submission at some point.
Using an effective mix of these skills will keep MacDonald in good position to begin wearing down Woodley until a finish presents itself. The heavily muscled "Chosen One" has shown signs of gassing in prior bouts; doing the same against MacDonald will almost certainly spell his demise.
Record: 13-2 overall, 3-1 UFC
Key Wins: Carlos Condit (UFC 171), Josh Koscheck (UFC 167), Tarec Saffiedine (Strikeforce Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine), Paul Daley (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Key Losses: Jake Shields (UFC 161), Nate Marquardt (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy)
Keys to Victory: After taking the stacked UFC welterweight division by storm with finishes of Condit and Koscheck, Woodley has the opportunity to truly make himself a name for himself by defeating MacDonald.
To score his biggest-ever win, Woodley has to fight using a patient gameplan. True, he may become only the second man to finish MacDonald with strikes (Condit was the first) by unleashing his massive bombs in the first round, but there's probably more of a chance that he expends too much energy chasing down his more cerebral opponent in the process.
Because of that, Woodley should pick his spots more carefully, choosing to let his opportunities present themselves rather than forcing the issue. He showed some of the top-level wrestling that gained him All-American status at the University of Missouri against Condit; look for that trend to continue at UFC 174.
If Woodley can secure a few takedowns and land some ground and pound while staying out of MacDonald's varied submission holds, he'll go far in scoring points in the eyes of the judges.
But with Dana White stating that Woodley has to make a huge statement to get a title shot, he'll most likely be looking to end this fight with a bang.
That could pay off big, but it could also backfire in the most important bout of his life. We'll just have to wait and see.
Bottom Line from Vancouver: The bottom line for this fight is that it is absolutely pivotal for the career trajectories of two of the best fighters in the world today.
MacDonald has kind of been anointed as the future welterweight king, so the burden weighs heavily on him to step into that role. However, with "Ares" being eight years younger than the 32-year-old "Chosen One," there may be more urgency on Woodley heading into Vancouver.
There's still an air of doubt surrounding his victory over Condit, despite the fact that he was clearly winning that fight up until the injury. All he can do to silence those critics is win on Saturday night, but any old boring decision won't cut it.
A brawl favors Woodley, but he can only maintain an all-out pace for so long. If MacDonald can drag this fight into deep water and make it a technical chess match, he'll begin to turn it into a "GSP"-like affair, which will obviously favor him by a wide margin.
Expect to see the winner fighting for the belt sometime in the near future, making this one of the most critical bouts of the summer. Enjoy the fight.
Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley may not be fighting for a guaranteed shot at gold at UFC 174, but they're going to be painfully far from one if they lose. With crucial stakes on the line, which top-ranked challenger will rise to the occasion this weekend?