After a lackluster 2013, Rory MacDonald is near in completing his revitalization

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY

After having disappointing performances in both of his fights in 2013, it has been a revitalized year for Rory MacDonald. From the pressure he’s received in being Canada’s new “golden boy” with George St. Pierre out, he’s won definitively and impressively in both of his bouts this year. No longer the over-conservative striker, MacDonald has evolved greatly throughout 2014.

It may sound harsh to label MacDonald’s 2013 as disappointing, despite nearly receiving a title shot. His persistent injuries continued to haunt him in losing out on a fight against Carlos Condit. The victory over Jake Ellenberger is infamous for being the worst high-profile fight of that year. Despite expertly using his jab to control the usually aggressive Ellenberger, many people were furious over the lack of action. Then in his loss to Robbie Lawler, he seemed to be timid against a high-level striker and was dropped in the third round. It essentially cost him a title shot.

He admitted in an interview with Ariel Helwani that he wasn’t enjoying fighting. When a fighter speaks about not enjoying what he does, you begin to question his mindset. Even at 24 years old at the time, he seemed to be at a cross roads of his career. Could he live up to the expectations from a massive Canadian fan base? The beloved Georges St. Pierre retired, which meant that MacDonald was clearly the next in line to be the next superstar from Canada.

With the injury issues behind him, he’s been much more active in 2014. The adversity he faced against an elite grappler in Demian Maia was the start of shedding the “overrated” label foolishly casted upon him. After having to defend off his back for four minutes, he picked apart a distraught Maia. His sprawl couldn’t have been more precise in stuffing several of Maia’s takedown attempts. His striking was in complete rhythm mixing it up with his patented body kicks. As he was announced the winner, it was the first time in quite some time that he received an applause from the audience. His ability to weather the storm and not allow Demian Maia to finish him, while having full mount won over many skeptics.

There were still questions about MacDonald, particularly if he can stop an explosive wrestler with knockout power such as Hector Lombard or Tyron Woodley. Despite stuffing several of Maia’s takedown attempts, Maia was able to control him for the most part on the ground in the first round. He was matched up against Woodley that was considered as the “people’s main event” at UFC 174. Woodley had beaten Carlos Condit, which was a monumental victory even if it wasn’t technically a knockout. For the first time in four years, MacDonald was back fighting in Canada and couldn’t have dictated the fight any better.

His objective in taking control of the octagon from the start was a genius strategy. It allowed him to corner Woodley and not allow him to charge in with his explosive flurries. The guidance of Firas Zahabi clearly influenced him into making his methodical striking even more dangerous by implementing control of the octagon. That’ll be crucial against a striker like Tarec Saffiedine, who exploits leg kicks in his game plan frequently.

MacDonald’s performance against Woodley was a massive turning point in his career. It was his first dominant win against a top-tier welterweight. That has led to a fight against Saffiedine that can certify his number one contender status with a victory. It’s a bit of an odd fight, considering that Saffiedine is ranked as a fringe top ten welterweight at best. He’ll still provide a stern test against anyone. The only thing that has truly derailed Saffiedine has been several injuries during his UFC career.

As for his actual ability, he’s as well rounded as they come. His high-level striking comes from having a black belt in Shihaishinkai, which specifies in leg kicks. His takedown defense was the best from a percentage standpoint in Strikeforce. Besides his leg kicks, it was his takedown defense that propelled him to beating Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce championship. MacDonald has landed a decent amount of takedowns in his career, but rarely goes for double legs. He prefers to use trips and leg sweeps, which will likely not be effective against someone as disciplined as Saffiedine.

The low ranking shouldn’t fool anybody in rating Saffiedine’s ability. Similar to Gegard Mousasi, he’s criminally underrated from a UFC rankings standpoint. This fight will be another testament to determine if MacDonald is ready for a title shot. This is his first five round bout of his career against someone who’s fought five rounds in his last two bouts. Can he catch one of those vicious leg kicks and put Saffiedine on his back? If he took down a division one wrestler in Woodley, he could certainly take down most welterweights with the exception of the current champion.

This is one of the better main events of the year and people are generally excited to watch Rory MacDonald again. You couldn’t say that in 2013 following two lackluster performances. All it has taken is a combination of being more aggressive and savvy in breaking down his opponents. If he can defeat Saffiedine, it’ll be the last task in making a complete 180 for his career. What better way to complete that task than fighting in your home country at a championship level pace? This is his time to shine.

Twitter: @Allen_Strk

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