First there was Carlos Newton, then there was David Loiseau, Georges St-Pierre, and then Rory MacDonald.
Those were, at their respective times, the premier mixed martial arts talents out of Canada; of course, there were others, but they were the front-runners for achieving great things in the UFC.
Newton took the UFC welterweight title from Pat Miletich, Loiseau fought Rich Franklin for the UFC middleweight championship, Georges St-Pierre won the UFC welterweight championship from Matt Hughes and Matt Serra on separate occasions, and believe it or not, Rory MacDonald was expected to exceed St-Pierre in his career accomplishments.
The hype on this kid was incredible, and it was there for a good reason.
MacDonald was the first true mixed martial artist to come up, the first talent that came up solely training MMA, and not coming from a specific background before transitioning.
His striking was as technical as anyone’s out there, his killer instinct was really something to behold when he was younger, and he was awarded his black belt in no-gi BJJ at just 23 years of age.
Mix that with having the greatest to ever do it, Georges St-Pierre as a teammate, as well as BJJ black belt and Muay Thai champion, Tristar owner Firas Zahabi as a head coach, there was no limit to this young Canadian’s success.
Beginning his career at just 16 years of age, fighting and defeating grown men nonetheless, MacDonald would climb to 9-0 before being signed with the UFC at 20 years of age.
In this time, MacDonald won two different KOTC championships, and he also defeated talents such as Jordan Mein (0-0), Clay French (15-3), and Kajan Johnson (12-9), who came into their bout on a five-fight win streak. Two of them, Mein and Johnson, eventually made their way to the UFC themselves.
Following a first-round submission (armbar) in his promotional debut, which improved him to 10-0 with ten finishes, the Canadian superkid would be paired up with former four-time WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit.
Condit was already a well-established, respected competitor with a record of 24-5 (23 finishes).
MacDonald gave Condit all he could handle throughout the first ten minutes of the contest, completely outclassing the former champion (that never lost his belt in a fight) with ease in both the striking and grappling.
The way this relative unknown could mix it up the way he was, at just 20 years old, and against someone like Condit, we knew we had something truly special in MacDonald. Though he’d be stopped at 4:53 of the third and final round, which wasn’t the most justified stoppage mind you, MacDonald showed us what he was capable of.
Now he just had to make sure he could do it for 15 minutes, as he was very fatigued during the third round of his fight with Condit. But he had all the time in the world to rebound and get better.
MacDonald would rattle off five-straight victories over the likes of Nate Diaz (UD), Mike Pyle (TKO), Che Mills (TKO), former two-division UFC champion BJ Penn (UD), and Jake Ellenberger (UD).
MacDonald always had a killer instinct going into his fights, and it was really a beautiful thing to watch; the way he just tossed Diaz around with back-to-back-to-back suplexes, the way he went straight at Penn from bell to bell and battered him.
Those were the only two decisions of his career, and he showed incredible violence in both encounters.
But, things would change in his fight with Ellenberger.
This is the fight where MacDonald really began relying on his jab, and honestly, he didn’t do much other than that. Some front kicks up the middle and his jab won him this fight. He handily out-struck Ellenberger 46-19 in significant strikes, but it was an uneventful affair, a first for MacDonald.
He’d go into his next fight with Robbie Lawler with a similar game plan and it didn’t work quite as well this time. It was a very close fight after two rounds, you could’ve either had it 1-1 or 2-0 MacDonald going into the third, and a big third round for Lawler got him the split decision victory.
MacDonald was outstruck by Lawler 37-44 in significant strikes, despite securing four takedowns in six attempts.
This brought MacDonald’s record to 15-2, but he wasn’t done here, he was just getting started.
Three-straight victories would follow over the likes of two-division title challenger Demian Maia (UD), future, now former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (UD), and former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine (KO), again, someone who’d never lost their belt in a fight, and someone who was a 12-1-1 kickboxing champion.
This granted the still very young Canadian prodigy his first ever world title shot, a rematch with Lawler, who’d since won the UFC welterweight championship himself.
After four rounds of battle, all three judges had MacDonald up 3-1 going into the fifth. He unloaded on a badly hurt Lawler for an entire minute-plus in the third round, which didn’t help his endurance, and he was absolutely exhausted after the fourth round was over with.
But all he had to do was survive the fifth and final round, and he was going to become the UFC welterweight champion as we all knew he would do.
However, exactly one minute into the fifth, the fight was stopped with Lawler the victor via TKO.
A splitting right cross shattered MacDonald’s nose and he couldn’t take it anymore, as he fell to his back covering up.
This defeat brought his record to 18-3, and it really changed him. Though MacDonald was just 25 years old, turning 26 later that month at the time of his second defeat to Lawler, he’d suffer a second-straight setback to two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson before leaving the UFC for Bellator.
Following a second-round submission (rear naked choke) victory over fellow UFC veteran Paul Daley, MacDonald fought for the Bellator welterweight championship against multi-time champion Douglas Lima, and this fight was an absolute war as well.
After four rounds were completed, one of the judges had it 2-2, and the other two had it 3-1 MacDonald going into the fifth. Lima had battered MacDonald’s leg badly; he could barely walk. The welts and bruises on his calf were remarkably gross.
But, MacDonald was able to pull out the win this time, as he took Lima down and controlled him for the entirety of the final five minutes, and he was finally a world champion at 28 years old.
Yeah, finally, that’s how much hype was around this young man.
MacDonald would move up for a champion versus champion bout against then Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi, a fight he was just out-muscled and out-classed in. Mousasi’s jab was piecing MacDonald up on the feet, and once Mousasi took him down and mounted him it was a wrap.
MacDonald would end up losing this fight via TKO in round two.
Next came his first title defense back at 170 lbs, where he retained his title by battling former UFC title challenger and former three-time WSOF welterweight champion Jon Fitch to a draw in a lackluster affair, before defending it against Neiman Gracie (UD) in his next outing.
This was certainly a different MacDonald than we were used to seeing. He just didn’t have a killer instinct anymore, though he was still able to win some big fights.
MacDonald would lose his belt to Lima in their rematch however, a fight he was picked apart and battered in with all three judges giving Lima the 50-45 scorecard. He would then sign with PFL, debuting in April of 2021 where he submitted (rear naked choke) another fellow UFC vet in Curtis Millender.
This would be followed up by him losing a very controversial split decision in his next bout against another UFC vet in Gleason Tibau, a highly disputed result, before convincingly losing a unanimous decision to two-time PFL welterweight champion Ray Cooper III in his final bout of 2021.
This marked his fourth defeat since leaving the UFC, that’s not something many of us expected.
Unfortunate for MacDonald and his fans, he’d mirror that 2021 season in 2022, winning his first bout via first round submission (rear naked choke), before losing back-to-back contests in his second and third bouts of the year.
Again, his first defeat in 2022 against Sadibou Sy via unanimous decision; it was another disputed decision, though not quite as controversial as the Tibau one the year previous.
His second-straight defeat in the 2022 season came via first round knockout against the 9-2 Dilano Taylor.
No disrespect to Taylor, he’s a solid talent, but this is not someone MacDonald would’ve had one issue with at his best.
MacDonald decided to call it a career following this defeat, retiring a former world champion at 33 years old with a record of 23-10-1 (wins – 7 knockout, 9 submission, 7 decision: losses – 4 knockout, 0 submission, 6 decision).
Standing 6′ with a reach of 76”, along with being as technical as he was both on the feet and on the ground, MacDonald is perhaps the greatest fighter ever to have never won a UFC belt.
Yes, he lost to Mousasi, who also never won a UFC title, but he gave up a lot of size in that fight and it showed.
There’s also Donald Cerrone, Alistair Overeem, Alexander Gustafsson, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, Dan Henderson, Urijah Faber (though the WEC 145 lb title is the UFC 145 lb title), Tony Ferguson, Colby Covington, and Nick Diaz, but Rory MacDonald is right up there with them as the greatest to never win an undisputed UFC championship.
That all being said, he just wasn’t the same after the second defeat to Robbie Lawler. He began point fighting, rather than searching for the finish around the time he fought Jake Ellenberger, but he was such a technician. He absolutely pieced up Tyron Woodley and did so with such ease.
MacDonald even became the first man to take Woodley down in the UFC, and Woodley had the best takedown defense amongst active fighters throughout his UFC tenure until he lost his belt to Kamaru Usman.
Woodley went onto KO Lawler in the first round to claim the welterweight title himself, and would go on to hold it for four more fights. We knew MacDonald had as much of a chance as anyone to achieve true greatness.
This Canadian warrior was always right there amongst the best, but some fights just change you and this was one of those fights. The man has a fiberglass nose courtesy of Lawler. That’d change anyone.
From his two vicious, violent battles with both Robbie Lawler and Douglas Lima (18 total rounds in those four fights), his wins over world champions such as BJ Penn, Tyron Woodley, Tarec Saffiedine, and Douglas Lima, to his absolute destruction of merely everyone throughout his first 20 professional fights, Rory MacDonald is an absolute legend of the sport.
MacDonald left the UFC having gone 9-4 (9-2 through first 11) within the promotion, he went 3-2-1 in Bellator, and then 2-4 in PFL.
That means following an 18-2 start to his career, he’d go 5-8-1 over his next 14 bouts. He was progressively getting worse results the longer he stuck around, and considering, it’s an appropriate time for him to call it a career.
Thank you, Rory MacDonald, thank you ‘Waterboy’, ‘Ares’, ‘Red King’, and ‘Canadian Psycho’ (fan given nickname) for your illustrious career, it was certainly a pleasure to watch.
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I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon Versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That’s the first fight I ever saw, and I was immediately hooked. So eventually, I began covering the sport in the fourth quarter of 2018, and have since started writing about animals as well. If you’d like to see those pieces, be sure to check out learnaboutnature.com!