This Saturday night (October 4, 2014) No. 2-ranked UFC welterweight Rory Macdonald will take on No. 9-ranked Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of UFC Fight Night 54 from the Scotiabank Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A win will most likely put “Ares” in line for a title shot at the winner of UFC 181’s main event rematch between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler.
Long thought to be the heir apparent to training partner and friend Georges St. Pierre’s long-held welterweight title, MacDonald last tasted defeat at UFC 167 in November 2013, losing a split decision to Lawler the very same night that “GSP” squeaked by Hendricks in highly controversial fashion before vacating the belt.
After a year where he acknowledged his heart wasn’t into fighting, MacDonald has rebounded well by defeating Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley via decision at UFC 170 and 174, respectively. But those wins, while impressive, aren’t exactly the statements a fighter needs to make to earn a title shot in the ultra-crowded UFC welterweight division.
Despite MacDonald’s anointment as the next welterweight champion, he still has a lot of work to do. Let’s take a look at why he may not be ready to fight for gold just yet.
It may not be the easiest case to make, as MacDonald owns wins in seven of his last eight bouts. However, he has not finished a bout in the UFC since his UFC 145 TKO of Che Mills, a fighter who is no longer even in the UFC. Winning his last four bouts by decision, the highly technical MacDonald will no doubt begin to gain the negative moniker of a fighter who plays it safe like “GSP” did. Both fighters use precision striking and smothering grappling to outclass opponents everywhere the fight goes while never risking an upset by opening themselves up.
It’s certainly a winning strategy, as St. Pierre won an unprecedented nine straight welterweight title defenses. Yet the UFC is looking for excitement in their next 170-pound champion. A killer instinct certainly helps a fighter rise to top-level status, and MacDonald seems to have lost much of that since making his way to the Octagon.
The talent is obviously much better in the UFC, but when MacDonald was a hungry up-and-coming fighter in King of the Cage, he finished all ten of his bouts to earn his shot in the UFC. While that’s simply an unsustainable pace when tasked with the best fighters in the world, MacDonald may be fighting a bit safe, and that will hinder his cause considerably in today’s finish-focused UFC.
By comparison, Lawler has finished three of his five wins since coming back to the promotion at UFC 157 in February 2013. His decision wins were over MacDonald and Matt Brown, the Nos. 2 and 5-ranked fighters in a division that may be the most difficult in all of MMA. He nearly won the belt had it not been for a late round takedown from Hendricks in their battle at UFC 171 this past March.
If MacDonald decisions Saffiedine, he’ll own wins (albeit on the judges’ scorecards) over the Nos. 3, 7, 8, and 9-ranked fighters. While that’s a very impressive resume to be certain, it doesn’t include a finish of a top-ranked contender, and many believe Woodley is overrated.
Saffiedine has also done little to prove he’s deserving of a Top 10 rankings spot. Saffiedine’s most notable win was over a fading Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce welterweight belt, and his only UFC bout was an impressive battering of unranked Hyun Gyu Lim in January. “The Sponge” has some great kickboxing, but he has yet to prove that he can truly swim in the shark-infested waters of the UFC welterweight elite. He could potentially utilize his trademark leg kicks to keep MacDonald’s striking at bay and score a massive upset, but it would seem that the “Canadian Psycho” is too smart for that.
That’s why MacDonald needs to finish Saffiedine to have any shot at truly deserving a title shot after UFC Fight Night 54. He may be at least one high quality win away, but the UFC would most likely give him the shot barring any unforeseen controversy in the Hendricks-Lawler rematch.
If can end his finish drought and stop the resilient Saffiedine in the early rounds, MacDonald will make a statement that the lower level of the welterweight Top 10 simply cannot hang with him. It’s kind of expected, but Macdonald needs to show us that he can dominate like his massive potential dictates.
If he outwrestles Saffiedine and peppers him with a bunch of pillow shots to lock up a one-sided but snore-inducing decision, or if he has Saffiedine in trouble but coasts to another easy win, well, then it should be difficult to give MacDonald the shot.
Yes, he’ll have three straight victories over Top 10-ranked opponents, but a test against No. 5-ranked Matt “The Immortal” Brown, No. 6-ranked Hector Lombard, or even the returning No. 4 Carlos Condit, would make great bouts for MacDonald to prove his title readiness.
The Condit bout is especially enticing, as “The Natural Born Killer” owns a third round stoppage over a young MacDonald in a fight that “Ares” was most likely winning.
On the surface, it is hard to argue that anyone other than MacDonald deserves a title shot if he beats Saffiedine, and there’s some truth to that school of thought. However, we aren’t that far removed from MacDonald’s insanely boring win over Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FOX 8, and he was nearly finished by Lawler not even a year ago.
Opposition like “Ruthless” is the true measuring stick of his development as a fighter. Woodley is too, but UFC President Dana white derided MacDonald for not putting “The Chosen One” away when he had him on the ropes at UFC 174.
That criticism may be justified, because it’s clear that MacDonald has the skills to destroy even the best when his mind is right. He will most likely hold the welterweight title one day. After all, he’s only 25 years old and has already faced many of the top fighters on the planet.
However, perhaps that opportunity should be a ways off rather than next even if he does beat Saffiedine. If he can finish Condit, Brown, or Lombard, then he’ll undoubtedly deserve his title shot. But until that day, he’ll always have something left to prove.