Back in July of 2015, in the co-main event of UFC 189, welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and number-one-contender Rory MacDonald delivered one of the greatest fights of all time. And while MacDonald would lose that fight, the competitive nature of the contest meant that the loss did little to hurt his standing in the welterweight division. Though he left Las Vegas with a badly broken nose, his status as the second best 170-pounder on earth remained very much intact.
In the main event of the UFC’s latest trip to Canada, that changed. Returning to action after almost a year on the shelf, MacDonald found himself on the wrong end of a five-round thumping courtesy of Stephen Thompson. In just 25 minutes, he lost his number-two spot in the welterweight division, and was pushed onto the first two-fight streak of his career. To make matters worse, the bout marked the last fight on MacDonald’s current UFC contract. His losing that bout means he has much less leverage in upcoming negotiations with the UFC and the world’s other top MMA organizations. To say Rory MacDonald is in a tight spot would be an understatement.
Of course, MacDonald’s competitive fire is clearly still burning, and at just 26-years-old, the Canadian has plenty of time to bounce back. His doing so will simply depend on how he performs in his next bout, which begs the question: when he next returns to the cage, who will be in there with him? Let’s consider some of the possibilities.
Well, given that MacDonald is currently a free agent, its worth noting that his next bout might not be in the UFC. Instead, he might find himself in the Bellator cage where, given his status as one of the world’s top welterweights, an immediate title shot would almost certainly await. In this event, he’d attempt to succeed where Benson Henderson recently failed, in unseating reigning Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov. Of course, there’s also a chance that MacDonald could be scooped up by another opportunistic organization, such as Singapore’s One Championship, where he could challenge Ben Askren for the welterweight belt, or World Series of Fighting, where a title fight with Jon Fitch would surely await.
Then again, it’s worth reiterating that while MacDonald has hit a snag, he’s still a bona fide top-5 welterweight and as such, the UFC will probably do what it takes to hang on to him. Yes, despite his current dilemma, MacDonald’s next bout will probably be in the UFC’s Octagon. But who might his opponent be?
One interesting option would be Matt Brown, a long-time member of the welterweight top-10 who, like MacDonald, is currently riding a loss. The two fighters would probably deliver an exciting scrap, and as far as Joe Silva’s winners-with-winners, losers-with-losers matchmaking strategy goes, it makes sense. Yet while Brown is tough as hell, his recent losses to Demian Maia, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler make it hard to give him much of a chance against MacDonald—even today’s struggling MacDonald. And so the UFC could go another route.
They could, for example, pair MacDonald with Neil Magny, who recently scored a career-best win over Hector Lombard. Though Magny lost to Demian Maia less than a year ago, that loss was proceeded by an incredible 7-fight streak, and he’s since rebounded with three-straight victories. He’s undoubtedly ready for another step up, and MacDonald would be just that.
The possibilities for MacDonald’s next bout don’t end there. He could also find himself in the cage with Rick Story, who recently returned from a long stretch of inactivity to defeat former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine. Though Story has not been particularly active over the last few years, he’s currently on a three-fight streak, and has long stood out as one of the welterweight division’s best players. So he too would make an interesting choice for a returning MacDonald.
Perhaps the finest choice of all for MacDonald, however, would be a rematch with an old foe: Carlos Condit. The two fighters first met back in 2010, when Condit rebounded from two lost rounds to steal the victory with a third-round TKO.
Since then, MacDonald has established himself as a top-5 welterweight, while Condit has gone on to win interim gold, and challenge Georges St. Pierre and Robbie Lawler for the unified title. Granted, in the wake of his loss to Lawler—his most recent bout, and one many fans believe he won—Condit has been fairly open about his desire to retire. Yet more recently, he’s suggested that he’d consider one more bout if it was with the right opponent. And while that seems to mean Robbie Lawler or Nick Diaz, Condit would almost certainly jump at the chance for a high-stakes rematch with MacDonald. Not only would the bout push the winner right back into the title hunt, but their first fight proved they match up beautifully, and the competitive nature of the bout means they’ve still got a score to settle—all good things.
Whatever the future holds for MacDonald, he’ll have to make his next fight count, as a third consecutive loss could spell disaster for what’s long been one of MMA’s most promising careers. Of course, MacDonald surely knows what a third loss would mean for his career, which suggests he’s likely to enter his next bout with incredible fury and focus—a terrifying thought for whomever is tasked with welcoming him back to the Octagon.
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