When Rory MacDonald stepped out of the Bellator cage in October — with streamers falling around him and Douglas Lima celebrating the welterweight Grand Prix championship — there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding his MMA future.
“I believe in testing free agency and fighting for what you’re worth,” MacDonald told UPROXX Sports.
So he did. And when Bellator didn’t make a formal offer, MacDonald didn’t hesitate jumping to a rising MMA organization in the Professional Fighters League, the first organization to present MMA through the sport-season format of a regular season, playoffs, and championship.
”I’m excited to join the PFL where every year the world championship and $1 million belt is there for the best fighter, without any games or politics,” MacDonald said.
If that last part seems like a criticism of the current MMA landscape, that’s because it is. Recently a video of UFC welterweight Colby Covington went around, where the former interim champion explained how he almost was cut from the organization and creating his Make America Great Again persona helped save his career.
— Borrachinha Depot (@FullContactMTWF) December 8, 2019
That’s one of dozens of examples where current UFC stars rose to new heights thanks to their marketability. There’s no doubt these personas have helped the UFC reach new levels as well, with the promotion selling for a whopping $4 billion in 2016. Selling fights will always be the name of the game, and sometimes that means the talking before the fight is as important as what happens when the bell rings. MacDonald, however, feels like the sideshow has taken away from what made MMA special to begin with.
“People who aren’t familiar with MMA have a false interpretation of what it takes to be a fighter and competitor,” MacDonald said. “Especially the UFC now. These guys are the role models. They present the personality and character and the morales that martial artists should have. People who don’t know any better see these guys and think that’s what it is. They get a false picture of what MMA is all about. I think it’s hurt it in that sense. It definitely has a bigger audience. It’s gotten really popular, but I’m not sure for the best reasons.”
The times have changed since MacDonald first got into the UFC more than 10 years ago. He spent six years in the UFC, compiling a 9-4 record with wins over Nate Diaz, Tyron Woodley and B.J. Penn before taking his talents to Bellator. After an uneven 3-2-1 run in which he defeated Lima in 2018 to win the Bellator welterweight crown, MacDonald has a chance to get back to his roots with the PFL and focus strictly on having great fights.
“I have felt that pressure before, trying to get the most viewership on your fight and people to follow you and be interested in your fights and career to make more money,” MacDonald said. “At the end of the day, I have to be true to myself and stick to why I got into this sport: being passionate about the actual competition.”
Rejuvenated and focused on extending his career for at least another 10 years, MacDonald is ready to make a splash for the PFL when he debuts in 2020.
“I think I need to come in and be completely dominant,” MacDonald said. “I’m still here and still on top. I want to show everyone that I’m better than ever and I’m going to have the best years of my career here and prove the naysayers wrong. How some people think my career is on the downhill, it’s the opposite.”