Okay, so the last time I offered ten reasons why so-and-so may be the future of something-or-other, my forecast came true. It was July 2010 and the fighter's name was Jon Jones. The 24-year-old New Yorker has since become UFC light-heavyweight champion and the most feared fighter on the planet. Although hardly the most out-of-left-field shot of all-time, I called his ascent to the top a year before he dethroned Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua and took the combat sports world by storm.
With Jones now secure as the UFC's premier 205 lb fighter, my attention turns to 22-year-old Rory MacDonald, a physical welterweight contender with the world at his feet. Interestingly, both Jones and MacDonald compete on the same event next weekend -- UFC 145 in Atlanta -- and, while the man known as 'Bones' may have already arrived as the best in his weight division, MacDonald is still in the process of making the climb.
I predict big things -- and here's why...
1) Dominated Carlos Condit for two rounds.
Yes, it's true, MacDonald has been beaten before, and beaten by the current UFC interim welterweight champion, no less. Hardly the sign of future champion, perhaps. Yet one must take into account the manner of the victory and the age at which MacDonald was stopped by Carlos Condit in June 2010. The Canadian, then only 20, dominated Condit for the majority of the fight, before succumbing to inexperience and finding himself badly positioned and stopped in the third and final round. Condit knew he'd been in a fight, though, and the the rest of us came to realise we'd seen the birth of a future fighting star.
2) He's gunning for revenge.
Despite what happened first time around, and the potential demons that may lurk as a result, MacDonald is desperate to reacquaint with Condit and right the wrongs of his sole pro loss. "Given our history, I can't see anything beyond a Condit rematch at this point in time," he told me. "I want that fight more than a title fight right now. I need that rematch to prove to myself and everybody else that what happened first time around was a mistake and that I am the better fighter. It has to happen."
MacDonald is fearless and talks with the confidence of a man that knows only a naïve mistake robbed him of victory in the pair's initial clash. That makes him a scary proposition for any 170-lb'er, let alone former foe Condit.
3) He's sure of himself.
Of course, since beating MacDonald in 2010, Albuquerque's Condit has gone on to even greater things, knocking out Dan Hardy and Kim Dong-Hyun in first round finishes and then outscoring Nick Diaz to lift the UFC interim title. This hasn't quelled MacDonald's confidence in any way, shape or form, however, and has instead opened his eyes up to just how soon a title could be strapped around his own waist. "If Condit and Diaz fought me the way they fought each other, it would not be a good night for either them, I'm certain of that," said MacDonald. "Yes, I know they can improve and I know they have both fought much better in the past, but, as far as I'm concerned, you've got to try and show your best each and every time you step into that Octagon. I rate Nick and Carlos highly, but I don't think they really brought it that night. It didn't feel like I was watching a championship fight."
4) He schooled Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle.
MacDonald hasn't been without standout wins of his own since losing to Condit, either. He has beaten both Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle in stunning fashion, and both performances hinted at a ridiculous rate of improvement. After all, how many other fighters throw Diaz around like a rag doll with complete disregard for his high-level submission game? MacDonald did, and he made it look easy. Pyle went the same way, too, only he wasn't able to last the distance with the heavy-handed Canadian. The veteran American was halted inside the first round under a barrage of strikes and the defeat marked the end of a three-fight unbeaten run. MacDonald barely broke a sweat.
5) The bigger, the better.
Maturing and growing at a rapid rate, MacDonald isn't sure where he'll end up and can't be certain just how big and strong he will eventually get. A welterweight for the time being, MacDonald admits he wouldn't be scared about dipping his toes into the water at middleweight, light-heavyweight or even heavyweight. No, really. "I'm not scared to move up in weight," he said. "By the time my career is over, I'd like to say that I'd competed at welterweight, middleweight, light-heavyweight and even heavyweight. I'd love to do something like that. The bigger, the better."
6) Trains at the Tri-Star gym.
As far as training camps go, one could do a lot worse than spend eight weeks at Montreal's Tri-Star gym. This is the gym in which MacDonald prepares for fights and one that has served him well since losing to Condit in 2010. Headed up by Firas Zahabi, the current set-up means MacDonald spends valuable mat time with the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, David Loiseau, Denis Kang and Miguel Torres, among many others. If competition breeds success, MacDonald is in good company at this vital juncture in his career.
7) GSP is one of his best friends.
Who wouldn't want Georges St-Pierre as one of their closest friends? MacDonald boasts this, and is also in an ideal position to use the French-Canadian as a regular training partner. Not bad for a man looking to one day become the 'Next GSP' and lift the world welterweight title. "You pick up so much experience from just talking to guys like Georges," said Rory. "He talks to me about how he prepares, how he deals with nerves and everything else in between. No question is unanswered and it's all a huge benefit for me. Georges is like no other training partner. He is not only very accommodating and personable, but he also happens to be the best fighter on the planet. You couldn't ask for a better guy to show you the ropes. I now know that in order to reach the level Georges is at right now I have to do everything he does and more. He's an amazing person and one of my best friends."
It seems Georges St-Pierre is teaching Rory MacDonald to be just like him. Welterweights, beware.
8) He is just 22 years of age.
Did I mention MacDonald is only 22 years of age? No? Yes? Well, he is. And that means he is eight years younger than the current world welterweight champion St-Pierre , and even two years younger than Jon Jones, the supposed future of mixed martial arts. To say MacDonald has time on his side would be to say Chris Leben takes a good shot to the chin. MacDonald is already in the upper echelons of the welterweight division, yet has a heap of time to play with.
9) But far from inexperienced...
Although 22, MacDonald made his pro MMA debut way back in 2005, defeating Terry Thiara by first round submission. That would have made him just 16 years of age the night he made mincemeat of a veteran opponent. Since then he has won 11 of 12 pro contests and risen to his current position of UFC contender. When he joined the UFC in 2010, MacDonald was the youngest fighter on the entire roster. If you haven't twigged it by now, the Canadian is a young phenom, a kid trained to fight and representative of the next breed of fledgling mixed martial artist.
10) He wins by any means.
With five knockouts and six submissions to his name, MacDonald can destroy you however he sees fit. Heavy-handed and aggressive on his feet, he will beat you up and knock you out standing, or, alternatively, take you down and either ground-and-pound or submit you on the floor. Either way works. He also has a tendency to find a finish in fights, and has only ever gone to decision once, in that breakthrough win against Diaz last year. The youngster sees no point in hanging around.
UFC 145 takes place on April 21 and will be broadcast on pay-per-view.
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