In the new PFL series on him, Rory MacDonald hopes fans see perseverance.
In his 15-year MMA career, Rory MacDonald has achieved some great success in the sport and plans to continue to add to his resume and accomplishments in the Professional Fighters League upon its 2021 return. And in a new series based on his career, MacDonald wants to show the grit, endurance and spirit that’s led him to said success.
Beginning June 30, the PFL will release Red King Rundown — a six-part, weekly documentary series that takes a look at MacDonald’s career from its beginning, to his runs with the UFC and Bellator, to ultimately signing with the PFL.
MacDonald, the former Bellator welterweight champion and UFC title challenger, signed with the PFL towards the end of 2019. Immediately upon his signing, he was considered a face for the promotion alongside the likes of Kayla Harrison, Lance Palmer, Natan Schulte and Ray Cooper III. Thoughts shifted to how much success MacDonald could achieve in the PFL after winning the Bellator title but having a bit of an underwhelming title run.
Plans in the cage were put on halt, however, as the global coronavirus pandemic spread, and the PFL elected to cancel the entire 2020 season. With that came the idea to give PFL fans a deeper look into the promotion’s biggest signing to date. And in an exclusive interview with FanSided MMA, MacDonald says he hopes that fans see how much perseverance and fight he has in him — the same kind that he wants to ultimately be his legacy in the sport.
“They wanted to do come up with some ideas of bringing some content to the fans, to be able to stay involved and get a deeper look in my life,” MacDonald told FanSided MMA. “Where I’ve come from, who I am, how I’ve evolved in the sport and where I’m at now going forward with the PFL. So, I think it was a good idea because there’s no fights going on, so it’s a good time for people to get to know me. I think it’s a deeper look into where I come from, my foundations in the sport.
The people in my life that have impacted it; that are still, in fact, in it.
“[I want fans to see] that I have perseverance, and I’m hungry to achieve my goals.”
MacDonald added that he was hands-on in the process from the beginning, even to the point where he had to help work with some of the recordings and interviewing elements of the piece. And yet, he doesn’t know what the final project will look like necessarily.
“Because there was no cameraman stuff, I had to do some of the filming stuff with my phone and stuff from home, and doing a lot of like Zoom interviews and group chats and things like that,” MacDonald said. “But at the end of the day, the guys at the PFL are doing all the editing and putting the whole story together. I still haven’t seen it yet.”
Rory MacDonald on his beginnings, influences in MMA
The MMA journey for MacDonald began as a teenager in British Columbia, Canada, where he started training at an MMA gym in a decision he called “out of the blue.” From the moment he entered the Toshido Fighting Arts Academy — led by David Lea — he fell in love with the sport and committed to it, dropping everything else he had going on in his life.
“[I] just came every day. I spent as many hours as I could there, and when I wasn’t there, I was thinking about different moves and being a champion one day,” MacDonald said. “So, I just kind of fell in love with it from my first day of training, the jiu-jitsu, the Muay Thai, the boxing, at that gym in Kelowna — Toshido.
In the years since, MacDonald has also spent time training at the well-known TriStar Gym in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, under the guidance of Firas Zahabi and training alongside legendary former UFC champion Georges St Pierre. Both Zahabi and GSP are featured interviewees in the documentary series.
And while he’s trained with them, MacDonald feels there’s no one who has had as big an impact and influence on his career and decision to stick with MMA like Lea.
“We were very close, we still are very close,” MacDonald said. “He gave me my foundations in the sport and how to become a fighter successful fighter from the ground up. I’ve really done no fighting in my life before that, and he kind of raised me up and showed me how to become a great fighter.”
Rory MacDonald wins Bellator gold but Robbie Lawler rematch is best success
Making his professional MMA debut at just 16, MacDonald won his first nine bouts in the sport, mostly competing for King of the Cage and winning its lightweight championship, before getting the call to join the UFC, making his Octagon debut in January 2010 with a submission win over Mike Guymon. MacDonald lost to Carlos Condit later that year but rebounded with five straight wins, including wins over Nate Diaz, B.J. Penn and Jake Ellenberger, before a close, split-decision loss in his first encounter with Robbie Lawler.
Three wins later and MacDonald rematched Lawler on a much bigger stage, as the co-main event of UFC 189 and in a welterweight title fight. The two brawled back-and-forth for four rounds, with both men bloodying each other and MacDonald giving Lawler everything he could handle and splitting his lip. But, in part thanks to a broken nose, MacDonald was finished early in the fifth round.
MacDonald may not have won the gold, but the fight with Lawler was not only considered the Fight of the Night, but also the Fight of the Year for 2015 and the Fight of the Decade for the 2010s.
After another loss in the Octagon, MacDonald jumped ship to Bellator, defeating Paul Daley in his promotional debut at Bellator 179 before besting Douglas Lima in a decision at Bellator 192 to finally claim a 170-pound championship in a major MMA promotion.
While he holds both as the prime successes of his career, he still considers the fight with Lawler to be his greatest career moment — the one he holds in the highest regard — despite falling short of the gold.
“It was the biggest moment of my career, the most eyes on me,” MacDonald said. “You know, UFC is the pinnacle of our sport. So that definitely was the pinnacle of my career. Even though my fight with Douglas — Douglas is a great champion — but it’s just a different time, different moments, being at the UFC with that kind of vibe and everything going on.”
MacDonald added that while UFC and Bellator had their differences, his experiences in both promotions were great, holding no bad feelings towards either the Dana White or Scott Coker-led promotions.
“I got to meet some great people on both staffs, both sides of the staff, at UFC and in Bellator. I have no bad feelings. I’ve learned a lot of lessons as a kid that knows nothing about…growing up as a professional sportsman, or anything like that. I had no good advice growing up from anybody, I pretty much am a guy that’s out of the gutter. And, you know, [I] found my way up to the top levels of the sport. So I’ve learned a lot of lessons from, you know, my career [at] both places. I’ve had some of my best memories in my life at both of them. I’m grateful for my experiences.”
Rory MacDonald signs with PFL, deals with coronavirus pandemic
MacDonald’s reign as Bellator champion lasted just under two years but only presented one successful title defense. He was easily finished when challenging Gegard Mousasi for the Bellator middleweight title before defending his title in the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. He successfully retained the belt in a draw with Jon Fitch at Bellator 220 and a unanimous decision win over Neiman Gracie at Bellator 222 before dropping the title back to Lima in the finals at Bellator 232.
MacDonald was once again a free agent, and once again, he ended up signing with a different promotion — the PFL in this case.
“They offered me the best contract, you know, financially, it was the best,” MacDonald said. “It was the best choice for me, that was number one. And I think there’s many other benefits to it. I think that the fact that I could be fighting five times within a year — not even a year. I mean from the first fight to the last fight, it’s [May or June through] New Year’s Eve. So, you know it’s a lot of fights in a short period of time. But I think that I need that also.
“I think having a bit of a schedule, having something to strive for, keeping focused, I think that’s going to be something that I rise to the occasion on. I think that’s good for me with the personality I have. So, there’s that. [And] you know, the million-dollar prize that at the end, it’s very motivating.”
MacDonald was ready to make strides and have a successful debut PFL season, but it never happened thanks to COVID-19. Based on the PFL’s usual schedule over its first two seasons, it may still be about a year before we see the promotion return with a third season.
“When this thing first started, nobody was training martial arts together, so I was kind of on my own,” MacDonald said. “But I was blessed enough to have everything I needed just out of my house. So I was working on, you know, strength in the gym. I was working on conditioning — I have a bike, I have a treadmill, running outside, doing a lot of that. And I have a heavy bag and some stuff in my garage to work on stuff on my own. And a little while ago, some guys started getting together at the gym again and doing group training, and so I’ve been doing [that]. I’ve been back to doing all Mixed Martial Arts training again for a little while now.”
Re-motivated, Rory MacDonald ready to continue journey and perseverance
Being quarantined has also been a blessing in disguise, according to MacDonald. Following his draw with Fitch last year, MacDonald took part in an awkward and concerning post-fight interview where he said he had lost his killer instinct and needed to find himself again.
Some may have considered his signing with the PFL to be a possible retirement tour after partaking in his sport since his teens. MacDonald, who turns 31 in July, however, said having the time away from official competition and giving himself more time with his thoughts has allowed him to clear away from any thoughts of being done, pledging himself to be a full-fledged face for the PFL for the foreseeable future.
“[Quarantine has] given me some time to not only work on myself in the training but work on my mentality,” he said. “Have some time alone with my thoughts to refocus myself and understand what I really want in my next 10 years of my life. And it’s been very beneficial. It’s got me very motivated for the road ahead — these next bunch of years to achieve what I want to achieve. I don’t want to look back when I’m 40 years old and have the same kind of regrets I do as a 30-year-old looking back in my 20s.”
And when the PFL does come back, MacDonald says he’s going to lay it all on the line in every fight and be the true form of evolved fighter that he knows he is.
“I pretty much want to go in there and reach my potential,” MacDonald said. “I want every fight to be a true expression of who I am as a fighter. I don’t want to have a fight where I just out-point the guy or out-skill him to win a decision. I really want to go in there as a hunter. The way I am inside my heart as a fighter, I want to express my DNA as a fighter from now on, and to leave it all out there. Not that I’ll be reckless, because I don’t think that’s wise, but I think there’s a balance of fighting smart with a smart approach, but going in there for the purpose of closing the show.”