Rory MacDonald will be inside the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve and paying close attention to the $1 million PFL welterweight championship match between Ray Cooper III and David Michaud. If the “Red King” plays his cards right, he’ll be in his second consecutive $1 million tournament final around this time next year.
MacDonald fell short of claiming the $1 million prize in a unanimous decision loss to Douglas Lima in the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix final in late October. After becoming a free agent soon thereafter, the lure of becoming a welterweight champion and snatching a cool $1 million in the PFL was too much for the 30-year-old Canadian to overlook. The veteran signed with the company earlier this month.
“I think it’s a great opportunity and I want to go out there and cash out this time,” MacDonald told Sporting News about securing the bag in 2020. “That’s my goal. I want to go out there and go after my goal big time.”
After enjoying a welterweight championship reign as part of his two-plus years with Bellator MMA, MacDonald said he was open to re-signing with the company, but he opted to go with the PFL after it made him a true believer.
“The PFL really stepped up and gave me the best opportunity, best feel and I believe in them, their growth and being part of this,” MacDonald said. “I’m a believer in free agency and going after what you believe you’re worth. I was open to everyone, but like I said, PFL was the one I really believed in.”
MacDonald (21-6-1) is looking to continue a celebrated MMA career, having gone 9-4 in the UFC with wins over the respected likes of Nate Diaz, B.J. Penn, Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley. Back-to-back losses to Robbie Lawler in July of 2015 and Stephen Thompson in June of 2016 had the “Red King” signing with Bellator that same year.
After debuting in Bellator with a second-round rear-naked choke submission over Paul Daley in May of 2017, MacDonald scored a unanimous decision over Lima in January of 2018 to capture the welterweight title.
He dared to be great next against Gegard Mousasi, moving up to middleweight and being on the receiving end of a mauling for a second-round TKO loss that September.
Then 2019 rolled around, and MacDonald had himself a rollercoaster of a year, both physically and mentally. After fighting Jon Fitch to a draw in April, MacDonald stood in the cage and publicly wondered if he had the heart to continue inflicting pain on his opponents.
In June, he spoke with Sporting News about getting the clarity and sense of purpose he needed. That same month, he dominated Neiman Gracie for a unanimous decision and berth in the Welterweight World Grand Prix final.
MacDonald entered that bout with the strategy of taking Lima down to the ground. However, it backfired as the Brazilian stuffed his attempts and made the Canadian pay with kicks and punches toward a unanimous decision.
Despite the loss, MacDonald proved that he was able to get over the mental hurdle that he experienced after facing Fitch. He demonstrated that he has more exciting MMA moments to offer fight fans.
Plus, MacDonald believes that the PFL’s season format only behooves his career.
“I think it’s great,” MacDonald said. “Knowing your schedule ahead of time, the season format, I think the whole thing works pretty great. Seeing the group of guys in your category motivates you and keeps you hungry. You see the prize at the end and your performance is the only thing that’s going to get you there, not your smack talk.
“Just going out there and performing, so that’s a big motivational factor for me.”
As MacDonald sits at the Hulu Theater and observes the action Tuesday night, he wants to help the PFL grow and be one of its main focal points of 2020 — and beyond.
“I want to be a part of this brand as they grow and a force in the MMA world,” he said, “and I want people to know that I’m here and one of the best welterweights in the world.”