Every fighter says the right things when it comes to fights like the one Rory MacDonald had with Robbie Lawler, but what’s unsaid is more telling.
As much as fighting in a thrilling, bloody world championship battle for 21 minutes is the stuff of legend, win or lose, it’s usually something a person doesn’t want to relive. Sure, a fighter always wants one of those wars in his back pocket for posterity, to show the grandkids that for one night, he was one of two of the baddest men on the planet. But for the most part, he doesn’t want to talk about it over and over, or watch it on a constant loop when he’s outside the gym. For reminders, MacDonald can touch the nose shattered by Lawler, or look at the pictures he posted after the fight. That should be enough.
It isn’t for MacDonald, who isn’t like the other fighters. He never has been. When some beat their chest and call for attention, he kept to himself. When others walked left, he walked right. When most fighters would put the tape of Lawler-MacDonald II deep on the bottom shelf, MacDonald watches it, almost laughing incredulously when you asked if he’s seen it since July 11, 2015.
“Of course,” he said. “Obviously, I get pretty pumped up about it. I get upset because you’re watching yourself lose a fight, but you come to terms with it. You watch it for your weaknesses that you find or things you screw up.”
MacDonald didn’t screw up too much on that night in Las Vegas. After nearly stopping Lawler at one point, the Canadian challenger entered the fifth round ahead 39-37 on all three judges’ scorecards. In other words, he had to stay upright for five more minutes to be crowned world welterweight champion. It didn’t happen. Lawler stopped MacDonald a minute into the final round and retained his title.
It was a punishing defeat, but the 26-year-old was going to fight again. How soon? How about a month after the UFC 189 classic.
“I was really motivated, and I was very hungry,” he said. “All the way up to three months, I felt like I could easily get in there and fight again. But my nose wasn’t ready for that at that point.”
Eventually, the nose healed, he got back in the gym, and put his name in the hat for a return to the Octagon. It came as no surprise to those around him.
“They all know that I’m in this for the long haul,” he said. “There’s no end in sight and I think they’re really excited to see me get back to what I love to do.”
Some things haven’t changed since last July. He’s still the No. 1 contender to Lawler’s title, and his stock hasn’t dropped an ounce in defeat. Some things have changed though, most notably that MacDonald will add the title “Dad” to his name this summer.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” he said of the impending fatherhood. “I’ve done a lot of preparation mentally, and getting stuff ready for my baby girl. So I’m really excited for it. It’s going to be a big chapter in my life.”
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Which makes it all the more important to get things right when he faces Stephen Thompson in his return to the Octagon this Saturday in Ottawa. It’s a matchup between the top two contenders at 170 pounds, so the stakes are high. But he’s also in there with a friendly rival, making it another new situation for him.
“Me and him are pretty friendly, so this is probably the first for that,” MacDonald said. “But I don’t really feel that emotional about it. He’s another full-grown man, he’s one of the best fighters in the world, and I’m interested in fighting the best fighters in the world and competing against them. I could be friendly with a guy like that all day long. This is my job, this is what I love to do, and if he’s next, he’s next. Yeah, we’re friendly, but I’ll still punch you in the face.”
He doesn’t laugh, because that’s just not Rory MacDonald’s way. That won’t ever change, and it’s encouraging to know that the same person who tore through the division and gave Lawler the fight of his life is still here and ready to do it all again. So if you’re wondering, no, MacDonald never thought of taking a longer break or packing it in.
Fighters don’t do that.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life, so it just feels natural to get back on the horse.”
As for the future, MacDonald has a perfect scenario in mind. He wins big Saturday, signs a new deal with the UFC and gets ready to face the winner of next month’s bout between Lawler and Tyron Woodley. He’s lost twice to Lawler and beaten Woodley convincingly. Guess who he wants to face?
“I feel like I’m happy to fight both, as long as it’s for the title, but if my fighter spirit were to pick one that I would want to rematch, it would be Robbie because he got the nod on me two times now, so I’d like to clean that up.”
Welcome back, “Red King.”