By Raphael Garcia
Rory MacDonald is the type of mixed martial artist that the UFC relishes. He has the ability to dismantle his opponent in a variety of ways. He has an interesting look that perplexes and intrigues fans. Plus he has the following of Canada, a rabid MMA fan base, which supports his every move. And yet, his UFC Fight Night 89 main event is not only an important moment for his career, but for the UFC, who cannot lose out on this growing star.
MacDonald is walking into The Palace Arena in Ottawa, Ontario to fight the last opponent on his current UFC deal. He made it clear months ago that he intends on working the free agent space to earn a contract that is more to his liking.
"I want to make the most money I can. I want to get paid for what I bring to the table," MacDonald said while speaking to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour in March. "I've sacrificed a lot to get to the top, to the world title. I really sacrificed, and I took a lot of chances. I did a lot of favors, I felt like, for the UFC and I don't think it got returned. So now it's all about making money and whoever wants to pay me the most is where I'll go."
MacDonald’s tone continues a narrative that has grown more prominent in recent months. More and more fighters are willing to take gambles on their abilities and fight out their respective deals rather than renegotiate at earlier points. Some, such as Benson Henderson, sign new deals with organizations such as Bellator MMA. Others, such as Aljamain Sterling, stay put after getting what they deem acceptable deals to fight on the largest stage in the sport. After UFC Fight Night 89, it will be interesting to see which group MacDonald falls into.
He faces a dangerous opponent in Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Thompson’s dynamic striking continues to victimize opponents, and he’s become something of a dark horse contender within the 170-pound weight class. Even though UFC Fight Night 89 is in the shadow of UFC 200 next month, this main event bout is vital to the direction of the welterweight division, especially with the title being contested at UFC 201. But regardless of whether he wins or loses this weekend, the question for MacDonald is: what happens next?
On one hand, the UFC should do all it can to keep MacDonald on the roster. But on the other hand, it’s worth considering whether or not he is worth his perceived value. At 26 years of age and with 21 professional fights, MacDonald has taken a lot of damage in his career. The UFC 189 fight ended as a bloody mess of a matchup which concluded with MacDonald crumpled on the mat in the fifth round. That is the type of fight that changes an individual’s career, and that provides one of the more compelling subplots of his performance on Saturday. If he isn’t as durable as he once was, perhaps the UFC should allow him to walk for another promotion, as he may be on the early point of a negative career arc.
Carlos Condit to rematch their 2010 fight. Other well-known fighters, such as Matt Brown, Dong Hyun Kim, and Rick Story, are also looking for ways to move up the welterweight ladder, and they could choose to go through MacDonald. And outside the UFC there are also interesting opportunities, as names such as Ben Askren and Andrey Kroeshkov stand out as possible opponents in ONE FC and Bellator respectively.
The idea of Rory MacDonald potentially fighting outside of the Octagon adds another layer to his fight on Saturday, as after UFC Fight Night 89, the “Red King” may be looking for another promotion to rule. A victory doesn’t automatically mean he’s staying with Zuffa, nor does it give him true leveraging power in negotiations. And win or lose, there are arguments for and against signing elsewhere. But on the verge of free agency, MacDonald goes into this contest with a whole host of options, and it remains to be seen whether he makes the most of them.
UFC Fight Night 89
• Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson
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UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson takes place on June 18, 2016 at The Arena at TD Place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.