From 2010-2016, “The Red King” Rory MacDonald was one of the most exciting fighters in UFC’s Welterweight division (listening to him talk you might think otherwise). Indeed, he’s been described as “charisma deficient” by some, and others (including me) have wondered if his awkward interviews aren’t a byproduct of a killer mentality that only takes over when the cage door shuts. After a decisive loss to Stephen Thompson, though, Dana White and Co. declined to match a contract offer from Bellator MMA, and MacDonald inked a deal from Scott Coker in Aug. 2016.
“The Red King” was ready to be reborn.
Who would MacDonald face to get back to his winning ways after consecutive losses to Robbie Lawler and the aforementioned Thompson? It took a few months for everybody involved to figure it out, but after thinking long and hard about it, Paul Daley was the man chosen to inaugurate MacDonald’s promotional debut. This was a dangerous decision for MacDonald. His two losses came against heavy handed strikers, and few men at 170 pounds throw big blows like “Semtex” does. It’s not just his hands, though — Daley had just come off a brutal flying knee knockout victory of Brennan Ward at Bellator 170.
You wouldn’t want to engage in the kind of multi-round power exchange with Daley that “The Red King” had with Lawler in their second fight, a now legendary bout that has been called everything from “Fight of the Year” in 2015 to the best mixed martial arts (MMA) fight ... ever. As great as that spectacle was, though, it was hard to wonder if it hadn’t taken years off of MacDonald’s career, leaving him a shell of the “King” that he had been in the past. Even the winner, Lawler, said he never wanted to have another war like that ever again.
So at Bellator 179, which took place on May 19, 2017 at SSE Arena in London, England, there was only one question on everyone’s minds: could Rory MacDonald finally make a return to form two years after that brutal fight, or would hometown slugger Paul Daley literally punch his way to a Bellator title shot by knocking out the former UFC contender? The two men were chomping at the bit to get this much-anticipated fight out of the way long before the cage door finally shut.
It didn’t take long after the opening bell for MacDonald’s strategy to emerge — avoid the stand up war at all costs. One could hardly fault him for going for a single-leg takedown instead of trading shots with Daley. MacDonald passed to half guard and cracked Daley in the head with one of his trademark elbow shots, but he got pushed back to full guard and seemed to tire of being trapped there by the powerful Daley. He stood up with two minutes left, then jumped back on top and (briefly) got a full mount, but as before did most of his dirty work with elbows. Daley’s inability to stuff the takedown or get up cost him the round.
As he had in the first round, MacDonald opened the second by landing a solid strike before shooting, this time opting to tag Daley with a head kick. While previously Daley had been able to at least partially neutralize MacDonald by stopping positional improvement on the ground, MacDonald was in complete control on the canvas this time around. “Big” John McCarthy was worried about the continued elbows to the head, but Daley should have been worried about trying to turn to his side to posture up. MacDonald seized the mistake and had cinched up the rear-naked choke just ten seconds later at 1:45.
In typically bizarre anti-charismatic fashion, “The Red King” had a cryptic but memorable promise for then-champion Douglas Lima about a future fight between the two, vowing to “take your health” when they met. For the moment, though, MacDonald had delivered on the promise he made by signing an offer that UFC was unwilling to match.
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