Rory MacDonald Still Waiting to Return to Sparring for B.J. Penn Bout


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After suffering a cut over his eye in early August, Rory MacDonald is expected to resume sparring soon, according to trainer Firas Zahabi.

“He’s not able to spar for another two weeks,” Zahabi said on the Sept. 9 episode of the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show. “That’s what they’re telling me right now. His cut is still very pink. He’s not even able to do jiu-jitsu. He can just do technique at this point.”

MacDonald will fight B.J. Penn on Dec. 8 at UFC on Fox 5. The bout had been scheduled for Sept. 22 at UFC 152 prior to MacDonald’s injury.

“He was sparring, looking really good, really peaking in his training, being very dominant in practice,” Zahabi said. “I was really happy with him, and unfortunately somebody in our sparring session threw a backfist, which we’re actually not allowed to throw in sparring. It caught Rory a bit by surprise. The reason why we don’t throw spinning backfists is because you can land with the forearm when you throw it, and that’s kind of what happened. He hit him kind of with the wrist and glove, kind of the forearm, and cut Rory. Rory, he didn’t really feel the strike. It wasn’t a big strike. He was able to take his partner down, but then we saw some blood. Then I looked at Rory and I saw this huge cut. … I knew right then and there the fight was going to be cancelled.”

MacDonald needed 38 stitches, Zahabi explained.

“The surgeon had to stitch the inside, the muscle, then the outside and then there’s an eyebrow also,” he said. “There’s three layers of stitches they had to do.”

The verdict was no contact for at least a month, which would have severely hindered MacDonald’s ability to prepare for a fighter of Penn’s caliber. There was also the danger of the cut reopening in the fight, should MacDonald have been allowed to compete Sept. 22.

“Rory actually really wanted to continue with the fight,” Zahabi said. “He didn’t want to take no for an answer. He didn’t want to even consider not doing the fight. I actually had to calm him down a little bit and bring in his managers and all sit down and kind of have a rational, mature discussion about it. … It’s part of the game. It sucks to have your fight pulled out from under you so close to the fight, but it’s part of the game. He’s growing and he’s maturing and he understands that now.”

As for the teammate who threw the backfist, he’s still a teammate.

“That guy’s been with me for a long time, about 10 years,” Zahabi said. “He’s a very experienced standup fighter. He helps me prepare my fighters. It was very out of character for him. I always look at reputation. I always look at your history with me. The guy’s never done anything like that in the past and never had any issues in training before. When I asked him why he did it, he told me it just slipped his mind. He’d been drilling it, so it kind of slipped his mind, and I believed him.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:43).

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