The UFC heads to Ottawa for the first time on Saturday night (18th June) for a welterweight showdown between the Canadian Rory MacDonald and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. A win would see either fighter thrust into the number one contender spot but for MacDonald there could be even more at stake…
The UFC’s welterweight division has got a reputation for being one of the most talent-stacked and exciting divisions in combat sports. Dominant champions such as Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes have consistently been at the centre of some of this young sport’s biggest moments, meaning that the pressure from fans for fighters to perform can be pretty high.
You could forgive the current crop of 170lb fighters then for struggling to live up to the dizzyingly high expectations set by their legendary predecessors. However, a quick scan of the division’s top ten throws up a ton of mouth-watering match ups – the most exciting being right at the top of the division between #1 ranked brawler Rory MacDonald and #2 ranked karate and kickboxing prodigy Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.
Following in the footsteps of his Tristar team mate, mentor and fellow Canadian Georges St. Pierre, Rory was tipped by many to be the new face of the 170lb division when he made his UFC debut against Mike Guymon aged just 21-years-old. Following a loss to Carlos Condit in his second UFC bout MacDonald went on to win eight of his next ten fights – thus cementing himself as a serious title threat at welterweight.
There is one man in the division who MacDonald is yet to overcome, though. Both of the two defeats he has suffered in his last ten fights have come at the hands of the division’s current champion ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler – the most recent of which was one of the most brutal and bloody title fights we’ve ever seen inside the Octagon at UFC 189 in July last year (I implore you to watch that fight if you’ve not seen it).
The big question going into the fight with ‘Wonderboy’ then is if Rory will come back the same fighter after the damage he sustained in that last fight. There’s no question that the Canadian has the tools and the ability to overcome Thompson – but we’ve seen plenty of fighters return from brutal beatings without the same mental edge plenty of times before.
He needs to dictate the pace of the fight by closing the distance with his boxing before taking Thompson to the mat where he has multiple ways to finish the fight. Getting ‘Wonderboy’ to the mat though has been something that even some of the best wrestlers in the division have failed to do.
Thompson fights long with a very unique side-on karate stance that gives his opponent barely anything to shoot at when going for a takedown – meaning that getting hold of both of his legs is almost impossible. In his last fight against Johny Hendricks, ‘Wonderboy’ dismantled him with kicks and punches and barely allowed the former champion close enough to land a punch, never mind a takedown.
That’s why it’s important for Rory to come out very fast if he wants to win this fight. Letting Thompson get into a rhythm with his kicks is just about the worst thing he could do as it allows him to slowly pick his opponent apart.
A win for either fighter would surely see them pitted against the winner of Lawler vs Woodley for a shot at the belt. However, with Rory on the last fight of his contract a win would give him unique leverage when he tests the free agency market – something a fighter of his calibre has never done before.
This scenario would give the UFC a very big headache should he demand a huge payday. The idea of letting the division’s number one contender walk away and sign for Bellator is unfathomable from a fan’s perspective, especially if it prevents a third fight with Lawler from taking place. Letting him leave would also arguably be the first time an elite fighter in his prime has snubbed the UFC for a rival promotion, and I can assure you that the UFC absolutely do not want that to happen.
Whether Rory wins or loses, you can be certain that Bellator will table a huge offer in an attempt to lure the Canadian to fight for them. Althoug fans want to see Lawler vs MacDonald 3, most would agree that the next best thing would be a clash between Rory and the current Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov – a man who convincingly defeated Benson Henderson in his most recent title defence.