By Adam Martin
One of the storylines heading into last weekend's UFC Fight Night 89 event was that co-headliner Rory MacDonald was in the last fight on his contract with Zuffa. That meant that MacDonald's fight against Stephen Thompson was even more important than MacDonald's title fight against Robbie Lawler at UFC 189, a fight that is considered one of the greatest in UFC history. With a win, MacDonald would be able to ask for pretty much anything he wanted. With a loss, and MacDonald's future was much more uncertain.
As we saw, MacDonald lost to Thompson, and he lost badly. He was outstruck in every single round and lost the fight 50-45 on two judges’ scorecards and 48-47 on another. It was the worst performance of MacDonald's career, and coming off of the fight against Lawler where he suffered potentially career-altering damage, MacDonald, even after a year away from the Octagon, looked worse than anyone could have expected.
MacDonald took a gamble. The UFC did offer him a contract extension, presumably more than the $59,000 disclosed salary he made against Lawler at UFC 189, but less than what MacDonald had hoped for, and he turned it down, gambling on himself. While credit should be given to "Red King" for throwing all of his chips in the middle and going all-in on himself, the end result is that he has lost leverage in negotiations.
The Canadian now has a decision to make. He will go on the free agent market, and he will listen to offers from other promotions, although the UFC will ultimately have the final say, as the company does own MacDonald's matching rights. Bellator MMA will of course talk to MacDonald, and it's widely rumored that Scott Coker will make MacDonald a very nice offer. Benson Henderson, another recent free agent, signed with Bellator and is making a rumored $250,000 per fight, which is obviously more than what he made in the UFC. MacDonald will likely be looking for something similar to what Henderson is getting from Bellator, although the fact that he is not a former UFC champion like Henderson likely means he'll have to settle for something a little bit lower. MacDonald will definitely get a contract offer from Bellator, and it will be a hefty one, but had he beaten Thompson, he likely could have asked for nearly half a million dollars per fight, and even if he settled for $350,000 per fight, it's still a lot more than what he'll make now.
Rampage Jackson and other stars have. MacDonald will also be able to earn sponsorship money greater than whatever peanuts Reebok would pay him in the UFC for wearing their fight kits. So even if the official offer is
$250,000 a fight -- it's likely he will be offered a flat purse with no win bonus -- the total compensation package will be more than that because of those other factors just mentioned.
There's no doubt Bellator will make a sizable offer for MacDonald, and other promotions such as ONE FC and Rizin could consider making an offer to him as well, but it's more than likely going to be a two-horse race between the UFC and Bellator for MacDonald's services. So it will be up to MacDonald as to whether he wants to fight in Bellator against mostly lesser competition or continue fighting the best of the best welterweights in the world in the UFC. The money will obviously play a huge part in his decision, but so will MacDonald's desire to become a UFC champion.
After the loss to Thompson, it will be interesting to see what kind of regard the UFC holds MacDonald in. Dana White, for all his faults, is no dummy. Neither is matchmaker Joe Silva. We have no idea how they viewed MacDonald's performance, but he didn't look good, and you have to wonder if the UFC brass believes MacDonald is a shot fighter. If that's the case, and Bellator does offer a huge deal, the UFC might just let him go. But if they believe MacDonald still has a lot left in the tank, it might take a gigantic offer to stop the UFC from matching Bellator's contract. It just really depends on what kind of value they believe MacDonald can offer to the company and whether they believe it's worth the price it will take in free agency.
It will be interesting to see what happens to MacDonald and whether or not the UFC plays games with him now that he doesn't have a contract the way Bellator did to Eddie Alvarez and later Will Brooks. At the end of the day, MacDonald is a top-five welterweight and deserves to get paid a hefty amount. Hopefully the deal works out for both the fighter and the promoter and that MacDonald continues to put on classic fights for MMA fans everywhere.
UFC Fight Night 89
• Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson: Stephen Thompson def. Rory MacDonald via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 48-47).
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UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson took place on June 18, 2016 at The Arena at TD Place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.