Having once been in the limelight of the fighting world, Rory MacDonald is still confident he can get back into the pinnacle of mixed martial arts. The Canadian recently signed a two-year contract with the Professional Fighters League, where he expects to fulfill his career destiny. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, MacDonald spoke about his career up to this point and what lies ahead.
After only tasting defeat in his eleventh professional fight - a knockout to Carlos Condit at UFC 115 - Rory MacDonald put on some of the best performances in UFC. He defeated many of the promotion's top-tier fighters, like Nate Diaz, B.J. Penn, Demian Maia, and Tyron Woodley.
However, the constant matchmaking efforts didn't appeal to Rory MacDonald. Even after migrating to Bellator and becoming the promotion's welterweight champion, he had "to fight outside the cage" to get new deals.
The introduction of a fresh format with the PFL and the fighting organization's emergence as a threat to the UFC's hegemony is crucial to the sport, according to Rory MacDonald:
"We need competition in this sport because if we only have one powerhouse in the sport that controls what people get paid to be on that platform [that's bad]. I think those are the cards that we're dealt as MMA fighters now. We're not protected like boxers are. So, I feel like we're undervalued, I guess." said MacDonald.
The PFL made him "the best financial offer," but he also preferred the tournament-like format that "is going to keep him busy with potentially five fights a year or less than eight months."
As the PFL reaches new levels in organization and relevance, Rory MacDonald also hopes to benefit from the promotion's ambitions.
"They're trying to build a name for the sport. They have a great welterweight category, a high level of competition for myself. And I think it all just comes together for where I was meant to be at this time in my life in my career." said MacDonald.
Brought in to compete in the PFL as one of the promotion's most prominent names, Rory MacDonald will be looking to achieve his own potential. The former UFC welterweight title challenger acknowledges he has had "a mixed bag of performances" throughout his career.
"I've had some barnburners that people have come to know me for, and then the very next fight, sometimes it's a sleeper. So, I have to take some of the blame for that. Because maybe [in] those fights, I was less hungry, less focused, less motivated," admitted Rory MacDonald.
Reviewing his career, he has identified the points he needs to focus on and what he can let go. The 31-year-old fighter wishes to replicate and surpass his best performances to leave a meaningful legacy behind once he retires.
For Rory MacDonald, that means performing at his true potential, whatever the outcome. There were some victories where he was left "feeling empty at the end," almost as if he had betrayed himself.
"I want these fights to be exciting. I want them to represent who I am. Within my fighting spirit, so to speak, and I don't want to leave people disappointed anymore. I don't want to leave the cage disappointed anymore," Rory MacDonald explained. "And, you know, that's kind of a revelation I've also had in this time."
Even after competing under the mixed martial arts world spotlight and having defeated some of the best players in the game, there was a piece that seemed to be missing. Rory MacDonald could not find the purpose of his career:
"I was a little bit conflicted about my faith and where God was leading me in my life. I was not fully engaged. I wasn't driven to be the best fighter I could be because I just felt conflicted about where I should be in my life." said MacDonald.
He ended up taking some time off after his contract with Bellator ran out in 2019. That wasn't the plan. If the pandemic hadn't hit, MacDonald would have competed in PFL's 2020 season. But hit it did and the season was canceled as a result. The sabbatical period was beneficial for him "to work some personal things out, refocus, and set goals." Rory MacDonald believes that the free time helped him gather "everything required to go and dominate the next year."
But he could not have done it by himself. Rory MacDonald attributes his renewed determination to become the best in the world to a distinctive presence in his life:
"I felt like in this time off, I was really, really confident that God wants to use me in this skill set that he's given me as a martial artist. I feel like it's my destiny to be the best in the world. At one point, I was fighting for that top spot. But I let go of God in my 20s. I didn't achieve what I dreamed about, what I had set out for, what I felt like I was meant for. And I kind of fell off."
"God met me there where I was kind of at my lowest, and he's been working on me ever since then. So, now that I've teamed up with God, I'm focused on where I can be used, where I feel like God wants me in my life, and I feel very confident with my goals. I feel like I can't be stopped. So, I'm just going to trust in God and achieve this goal that I feel that was put in my heart by him," Rory MacDonald added.
What does Rory MacDonald expect from competing in the PFL?
Formerly known as both a UFC title challenger and a Bellator champion, Rory MacDonald remains one of the world's best welterweight contenders. His presence in the PFL is expected to disrupt the dominion of other fighting organizations.
Rory MacDonald thinks the 170 lbs line-up announced by the PFL so far is "really impressive."
"Everybody in there has their own skill that I have to watch out for. And I'm not taking any one of these guys lightly. I think they're all hungry. Whoever's matched up with me, I know they're going to be ready to kind of make a name for themselves. But I'm refocused, I got some goals that I want to achieve in the sport, and I'm going to walk over anybody that is in my way." said MacDonald.
In addition to Rory MacDonald and 2019 season champion Ray Cooper III, five other names have already been announced by the PFL to compete in the welterweight division. They are Nikolai Aleksakhin, Magomed Magomedkerimov, David Michaud, Sadibou Sy, and Joao Zeferino.