firas-zahabi.jpgRory MacDonald very well could find himself on the cusp of a welterweight title shot with a win on Saturday night.

And that has people talking. Why? Well, his teammate and friend, and some would argue mentor, is the UFC’s champ. A MacDonald win over Jake Ellenberger might just set up a fight with Georges St-Pierre – if MacDonald wants to be champ, and if GSP beats Johny Hendricks in November.

Of course, that brings up the classic teammate vs. teammate quandary – and MacDonald has always said he’s not interested in fighting St-Pierre. But when word started to get around that MacDonald (14-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) was spending this training camp for Ellenberger (29-6 MMA, 8-2 UFC) not training with the champ, the speculation was that perhaps the two were intentionally distancing themselves from each other, just in case a fight might loom down the road.

Not so fast, said the pair’s Tristar Gym head trainer and coach, Firas Zahabi. Instead, the explanation really is pretty simple, he told Radio (

“They’re both in the same practice room,” Zahabi said. “Georges is fighting a southpaw. But GSP doesn’t look like an Ellenberger in sparring. Georges is fighting a southpaw who throws big punches. Rory chips away at you and is a different style of punching than Hendricks. We’re using different bodies – we’re still working together. We’re in the practice room daily together, and practicing together. But after Rory’s fight, he’ll back to training with Georges as normal.”

Naturally, there’s going to be a lot of talk about MacDonald’s fight with Ellenberger, which is the co-main event of Saturday’s UFC on FOX 8 card at KeyArena in Seattle. It will air live on FOX following prelims on FX and Facebook.

And big fights and big talk – the two have been trash talking each other for weeks on Twitter and on a recent media conference call – lead to things like the MacDonald-GSP rumor. But Zahabi said MacDonald is good at staying above the fray, even for as young as he is, relatively speaking. The Canadian turned 24 on Monday.

“Rory’s not a sensitive guy,” Zahabi said. “He’s not going to get off-balance. But the closer you get to the fight, the more mental it becomes – 99 percent is mental the closer you get. Now it’s just about being confident, focused and pulling the trigger when you see the right time. A little smack talk isn’t going to affect him – he’s been around too long.”

Been around too long? At 24?

“He’s been training since he was 15, so he has 10 years of training,” Zahabi said. “But he’s so young and he’s only been at Tristar for four or five years. We’ve been adding a lot of tools to his game. Rory’s still got a ways to go to get to his peak, and when he does hit his peak, it’s going to be very impressive in terms of technique. He’s leaps and bounds ahead of people, but he’s still so young. He needs more seasoning.”

The seasoning he has already has made him more than a 2-to-1 favorite over Ellenberger on Saturday, which is saying something given Ellenberger has won seven of his past eight, including a “Knockout of the Night” against Nate Marquardt in March.

But the way Zahabi figures it, anyone who wants to start thinking about a MacDonald vs. St-Pierre title fight, the timing might just work out perfectly for a smooth transition. When St-Pierre is ready to hang up the gloves, MacDonald should be just about ready to be a champ in Zahabi’s eyes – though he didn’t speculate on how soon that might be.

And the idea of MacDonald seeing just how well St-Pierre does for himself as champion, and having that make him want to put friendship aside to go for the title, doesn’t hold water for Zahabi.

“There’s a lot of greed in the world, but not everybody’s like that,” he said. “There are more important things than money. Rory makes a lot of money, as well. He’s very successful. When Georges is retiring, Rory will be nearing his peak, I think. I don’t think it’s worth making such a show out of it.”

For the latest on UFC on FOX 8, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site. Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to

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