One of the keys to the success of Firas Zahabi’s Tristar martial artists is the preparation they put into contests.
Ahead of Rory MacDonald’s last fight on his current UFC contract against surging striker Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson this Saturday in Ottawa, the infamous Canadian gym drafted in kickboxing legend Raymond ‘The Real Deal’ Daniels to help the welterweight contender.
One of the most spectacular strikers to ever lace up a pair of gloves, Daniels claims that his old buddy Georges St-Pierre invited him out to Montreal and he jumped at the chance of helping MacDonald.
“I was really excited to work with someone of Rory’s caliber,” explained Daniels. “His fight IQ is great, and even with the things that I showed him, he’s kind of like a sponge in that he just absorbed every detail.
“It became so difficult for me to do the things that I was showing him when we were sparring. He caught on to things so fast. I was really impressed with his learning curve and how he could adapt so quickly.
“I guess that’s why he’s one of the premier fighters in the world today. The fact that he is willing to open himself up to learning new things makes him really dangerous.”
And it’s not just Daniels’ expertise in a field that Thompson thrives in that makes him a good man to help MacDonald prepare for the fight. Back in 2007, Daniels took on Thompson under the World Combat League in what as a battle of two of the best strikers in the world. Although the fight was ruled a no contest after less than a minute of action due to ‘Wonderboy’ tearing his ACL, Daniels was confident that he had the perfect game plan to shut down the Carolina native.
“Back then I was really looking forward to fighting him because he was a premier fighter, he was the undefeated guy with an amazing record. I had put together a really good game plan. It was unfortunate that he blew his knee out, but he’s continued to be successful since going down this new path with MMA.
“It’s been awesome to be able to show Rory the game plan that I had. Stephen Thompson is a fantastic martial artist, but I don’t think he’s ever faced somebody that’s better than him at martial arts. He’s a very talented individual, but he has never met a guy that is better than him at his own style.
“That’s why I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to face him. He is great at martial arts but I feel I’m the best at that particular style of fighting.”
Some people might look at Daniels’ flashy style and think it would be difficult for MacDonald to implement into his game. However, ‘The Real Deal’ pointed out that getting the Tristar welterweight comfortable with unorthodox striking patterns was the main reason he was called upon.
“My style has been always about showing the true athleticism of the athlete. I always wanted people to witness a true skill set during my fights. It’s incredibly difficult to prepare for.
“The biggest obstacle people will encounter when they are preparing to fight guys like me, Thompson and Mike Page, is that they have never seen anything like it before. When the attacks start coming at them they have to try and figure out what’s happening while the fight is taking place, and that’s incredibly difficult.
“To be honest, unless you’ve ever had someone stand in front of you and blitz you with attacks that come from all different directions, you’ll have no idea how to defend against it. You can’t even get other guys to mimic it because it takes a very high caliber fighter to really simulate it.
“Rory’s had that experience now so the shock factor is gone. The shock is like getting thrown into a pool of ice-cold water, but now that he has seen it he will be very confident against Thompson.
“We aren’t looking for Rory to become a kickboxer, we just want him to know what’s coming at him. It’s kind of like that scene from Way of the Dragon with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Chuck was winning that fight until he tried to fight Bruce Lee with his own style. That’s what lost him the fight.
“Rory has upped his IQ drastically when it comes to different set ups. I believe he knows where he can have a lot of success and he knows where the openings are going to come now. Understanding the timing and the distance is massively important, and we really spent a lot of time on that.
“You don’t have to be the best at the style to win, but you have to respect it. If you have no defense for a certain style, it doesn’t matter how much you know about everything else. It’s obsolete if your opponent can keep having success with something you haven’t seen before.”
Daniels is very confident that people will see the best version of MacDonald ever when he takes to the Octagon on Saturday night. He believes that MacDonald has improved so drastically that he would dominate Robbie Lawler if they were ever matched again after their 2015 ‘Fight of the Year’ showing.
“People are going to pleasantly surprised when they see what Rory is capable of doing in the striking exchanges against Thompson. I think Thompson is a great fighter but he isn’t as light on his feet as I am. Rory is really prepared for this fight.
“I’ve said it before, Rory is the most dangerous fighter in the welterweight division. He’s dominated every fighter in his weight class. I really want him to fight Lawler again.
“It would be a completely different story if they fought again. That’s how good Rory is. That’s how dedicated he is. Not only has been able to take in all of this new knowledge, but he’s also been able to implement it in his game. I think he would dominate Lawler if they fought again.”
Although Daniel’s sole bout in mixed martial arts ended in a second round submission loss when he fought Jeremiah Metcalf under the Strikeforce banner back in 2008, his new deal with Bellator Kickboxing has left the door open for him for another MMA contest in the future.
“It’s always been an option, and maybe now more than ever since signing with Bellator KIickboxing. Kickboxing is definitely my main focus now, but if the right opportunity presented itself I would definitely give it some thought,” he said.
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