After withdrawing from his March 16 rematch with Carlos Condit due to a neck injury, Rory MacDonald is back in the gym, according to trainer Firas Zahabi.

“He’s having his first workout tonight,” Zahabi told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Cheap Seats” show on Tuesday. “He’s doing some physical therapy and some physical training, but tonight he’s going to be drilling for the first time and we’ll see how his neck holds up. I really want to make sure [the injury] doesn’t happen again. I don’t want to commit to anything, but I hope he’s back in full training very soon.”

The 23-year-old MacDonald is one of the rising stars in the UFC. He’s won four straight, including a dominant victory over B.J. Penn in December at UFC on Fox 5. However, when he’s ready to fight again, Zahabi would like to see MacDonald take his time developing.

“I don’t want to put him with guys who have way more experience than him because it’s just not fair,” Zahabi said. “He has to be given the chance -- as good as he is -- he has to be given the chance to gain that experience organically. I don’t want him to jump up too fast and find out that, ‘Hey, I don’t know as much as I thought.’ He’s a tremendous talent. He is, and I think if I give him time to grow, he’ll have a run like [Georges St. Pierre].”

St. Pierre, the UFC’s welterweight champion, is also under Zahabi’s tutelage at Tristar Gym in Montreal. Certainly Zahabi would be happy if MacDonald takes the reins at 170 pounds after GSP retires. With the champ not quite ready to walk out the door, though, it makes even more sense for Zahabi to groom MacDonald at his own pace.

“I really think that a trainer has to not only train his athlete but also raise his athlete in the cage in a way that’s appropriate,” Zahabi said. “You don’t want to just take any name at anytime. When you have a guy like Rory, he’s very good, yes. Is he at his full potential? No, he’s not. Part of my job is to not only train him but to allow him to reach his full potential. I’ve seen guys with great potential, and it stunts their growth getting thrown in with a shark too early. It stunts their growth because now they start to have doubts. They start to lose motivation. They start to question the techniques that didn’t work. It’s just a question of also building the guy up as well, not just training him. You have to also build him up.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:06:56).

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