Rory MacDonald was riding a justifiable hype train heading into UFC 167.
With five straight wins, the young Canadian had essentially been anointed “The Chosen One” by a large percentage of fans and media – the fighter who would, one way or another, follow in the footsteps of mentor and training partner Georges St-Pierre as the eventual UFC welterweight champion.
Then along came Robbie Lawler (22-9 MMA, 7-3 UFC), and the MacDonald (15-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) train was knocked right off the tracks.
Lawler pulled off UFC 167's biggest upset – MacDonald was a favorite in the 4-to-1 ballpark – with a split-decision win at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. MacDonald stormed from the cage and with the exception of a Twitter message to the club that hosted his afterparty, has been essentially radio silent since the loss.
A win would have had him a strong contender for a welterweight title shot. Of course, two fights later, St-Pierre squeaked one out against Johny Hendricks in a fight with controversial-enough scoring to warrant an eventual rematch, per UFC President Dana White. And MacDonald’s unwillingness to fight St-Pierre, anyway, would’ve made things equally interesting even with a decisive GSP victory.
But now MacDonald goes back to the middle of the pack. Was it just an off night for MacDonald? After a dominant decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 129, MacDonald stopped Mike Pyle and Che Mills, then ran right through B.J. Penn.
But a win over Jake Ellenberger in July drew criticism, and to follow it up with the loss to Lawler may have been seen as a surprise to many.
But not to White.
“All the way leading up to this fight, I kept saying, ‘This is the perfect fight for MacDonald because we’re going to find out what he’s really got in this fight – Robbie Lawler is going to take it to him,’” White said after Saturday’s post-event news conference. “Robbie Lawler has the style of wrestling and hands, and the power to hurt you, that you’re going to have to fight completely different than you have been. That’s why I really loved (booking) this fight.”
But White also believes there may also be something to MacDonald having a style that can be difficult to figure out – but once worked through, one that fighters like Lawler can have success against.
“I can’t tell if he doesn’t let it go, or he’s just not that well-rounded and he’s one-dimensional,” White said of MacDonald, who was rocked by Lawler several times in the fight. “He has a style of nullifying a fight. He has a style of just making the action stop and I think a lot of guys, he bugs them out and gets in their head when he starts doing that and they feel like they can’t land. It ends up being this staring competition”
The “staring competition” was more indicative of his win over Ellenberger than the Lawler fight, of course, which was a strong candidate for “Fight of the Night” until St-Pierre’s win over Hendricks in the main event.
Lawler said he was going after the finish in the fight, even though he couldn’t get it done.
“I really wanted to go out there and finish Rory tonight, but he trains with one of the best camps in the world and he’s super tough and durable,” Lawler said. “I started to tire toward the end of the third round, but I’ve got a lot of heart and I’ll always push through no matter what. I spent this camp training in Florida with American Top Team away from my family in Iowa. I always work hard, but being away really motivated me to push through all the bumps and bruises in training.”
But if White talks about MacDonald potentially having a one-dimensional attack, Lawler appears to want to put out the opposite vibe. Known as a quiet fighter until he lets his fists fly in the cage, Lawler may not bring it when it comes to pre-fight talk. But in the fight itself, he might be ready for the next level after his win over MacDonald.
“It felt great to hear the crowd chanting my name,” he said. “I think they connect with me because of my tenacity and the way I fight. I always have looked for the finish and I always will. I take chances for the fans.”
For complete coverage of UFC 167, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.