Imagine that you're Rory MacDonald. You're 23 years old and for at least two years, you've been among the elite welterweights in the UFC.
You've been teammates with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, one of the greatest fighters in the sport's history, and have learned the game at his side.
You're ambitious and optimistic and look forward to a rich and rewarding career. Yet, since St-Pierre is 31 and still in the middle of his prime, there is little hope of ever winning the title.
That can't be a great feeling. MacDonald says he'll never fight St-Pierre. No matter the circumstances, no matter the prize, MacDonald simply says it's not a possibility.
"No question. I'm not fighting Georges," MacDonald said.
If he sticks to that assertion, the only way that MacDonald, who meets B.J. Penn on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 5 at Key Arena in Seattle, can win a title is if St-Pierre either loses it or moves out of the division.
No less an authority than St-Pierre said MacDonald is good enough to be the champion now.
"He has the tools to be the best there is," St-Pierre said.
UFC president Dana White called MacDonald "an unbelievable talent," and said he believes he'll become one of the UFC's best in short order.
"The kid's a beast, man, and he's extremely talented," White said.
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MacDonald is deferential toward St-Pierre in virtually every public comment he makes.
Yet, when it was suggested that he benefited greatly by working closely with St-Pierre, MacDonald bristled ever so slightly.
"We help each other," he said, an edge to his voice.
He shows little respect for Penn, the former lightweight and welterweight champion who is out to make his own statement on Saturday. Penn is just 1-4-1 in his last six fights at welterweight and just 1-3-1 in his last five fights overall.
He's insisted he's rededicated himself to the sport and is eager to put on a show against MacDonald.
MacDonald scoffed at the notion Penn is too big of a challenge for him at this stage of his career. He wouldn't say that the sport has passed Penn by, but he made it clear he doesn't expect to have a lot of difficulty with the Hawaiian.
"I definitely think I've passed him by," MacDonald said. "I don't know about the rest of the sport or the division, but we'll find out on Saturday. He's good still. I don't think he's lost it completely. He's not old. But I don't think he's put the time in the gym to excel and improve his technique. If he stayed in the gym, maybe he'd be better than he is today."
If he beats Penn, MacDonald would be in a race to be the No. 1 contender in the division along with Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz.
He's come an amazing distance in a short time. Only five years ago, he was questioning himself and considering leaving the sport.
"I had distractions in my life and I was unsure if being a fighter was really what I wanted to do," he said. "I was pretty young. Being unsure of yourself and having distractions is not a good match."
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He wouldn't say what those distractions were, but said they were "deeper" than just an 18-year-old having a problem with a girlfriend.
He spent time reflecting on his goals before he decided that he wanted to fight after all.
"I was thinking about [walking away from fighting], but I was not sure of the idea," he said. "I was leaning in that direction. I had people around me [who could help], but it was something that I mostly had to figure out on my own. I had to get away from other people's opinions and think about what I wanted."
He opted to fight, which proved to be a wise decision. He became the youngest man in the UFC in 2010 when he signed at 20 and nearly beat Condit in a Fight of the Night match at UFC 131 in Vancouver.
He's big, strong and athletic and has near-flawless technique. Yet, despite his youth and despite his brilliance, he won't get near a title unless St-Pierre abdicates his belt or MacDonald changes his mind and chooses to fight his friend.
He insists he'll never betray his friendship with St-Pierre and will deal with that issue in his own way.
"Everybody wants to talk to me about fighting Georges, but you know what, I've got to go out there and beat up B.J. Penn," he said. "One thing isn't going to happen – me fighting Georges – but the other thing is: talk to me about how I'm going to beat up B.J. Penn."
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