Lefko: Rory-Ellenberger was all bark, no bite

Rory MacDonald, right, fights Jake Ellenberger, left, during their mixed martial arts match at Key Arena in Seattle.
July 28, 2013, 12:44 PM

For a bout of such significance, the fight between Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger will be remembered for its insignificance.

The co-main event of UFC on FOX 8 became one of the dullest hyped-up fights in some time.

For all the trash-talking Ellenberger did on Twitter leading up to the fight and his refusal to touch gloves after he and MacDonald received instructions from the referee, he basically left his game on social media, which may have been a first.

MacDonald won by unanimous decision in the three-round, 15-minute fight that seemed much longer because it didn’t have any pace, but didn’t really do anything of consequence. Ellenberger chose not to engage in a bout that had so much implication in terms of underlining his status as one of the top talents in the welterweight division and because of that his stock has dropped significantly.

If the message in the UFC is that fighters who put on a good show will continued to be employed even if they lose, Ellenberger may have done more than lose the fight. He may have raised the ire of the company that employs him for not even attempting to go down swinging.

It is not uncommon for a fighter who is so close to a potential title shot to become cautious and tentative. But so much more was expected of Ellenberger because for reasons that are not entirely sure, he decided to play the role of the verbal antagonist.

Maybe he wanted to antagonize MacDonald, whom he claimed became a media darling who hadn’t faced any of the top competitors. Maybe he thought MacDonald would counter with his own tough-talking words. Whatever his motivation, he failed badly.

If you choose to battle with your mouth instead of your fists, you look foolish in retrospect when you fight passively. There is little left for Ellenberger to say now because he will never receive a chance as big as this again. There are simply too many fighters working their way up the welterweight division for Ellenberger to be taken seriously.

And how much did we really learn about MacDonald? His next opponent could potentially be Carlos Condit, the only person to pin a defeat on him in 16 bouts. Condit, a onetime WEC welterweight champion, has proven his value since joining the UFC in April, 2009, losing his initial bout but recovering to win his next five. His fifth came in a fight against Nick Diaz for the interim welterweight championship, which he won via unanimous decision.

Although he lost to champion Georges St-Pierre for the unified title, he put up a good challenge. And while he lost to Johny Hendricks in his next bout, which cost him a shot at a rematch against St-Pierre, he could still hold his head high in defeat.

Which begs the big question, if – and more likely when – Condit and MacDonald fight, who would you pick to win?

The fact Condit won more than three years ago with a technical knockout via elbows and punches with only seven seconds left in the fight obviously gives him an advantage. Combined with the fact he is seasoned against some of the best in the division is another reason to give Condit the edge. But maybe the biggest reason is because we know everything about Condit insofar as his all-around talent and we really don’t know anymore now about MacDonald than we did heading into the Ellenberger fight.

He wasn’t pushed and he didn’t have to overcome any real type of adversity. He has likely faced far bigger challenges in training on a daily basis than what he encountered in his latest bout. You can marvel at his talent and his ability, but he will not have nearly the same type of easy outing the next time he steps into the cage for real competition.

His only true defining moment against a proven opponent came last December against onetime welterweight champion B.J. Penn, who clearly has long since passed his point of relevance. In his prime, there is no way Penn would have lost to MacDonald, but he gave his all in bloody defeat.

MacDonald’s last two wins have come via unanimous decision. In fact, three of the last five have been decided like that. For a fighter with a proven ability to finish off his opponents, he has not been able to do that in his last two bouts. Remember this is an individual who had talked a year and a half ago about wanting to win a world championship by the time he was 24, and the fact he recently turned 24 makes that no longer realistic. He also talked about accomplishing things that have not been done before in the sport. Maybe that will happen in time.

His fight schedule has been compromised by injuries and circumstance, the latest being an opponent who couldn’t find his range and didn’t really change his tactics until far too late.
It is no wonder the people who attended the bout in Seattle booed vociferously throughout the fight.

What happened after the two were called toward the referee to receive instructions gave every semblance of something significant about to happen. MacDonald adopted a tough fighter’s stance, while Ellenberger stared at him without flinching. Anyone who anticipated MacDonald unleashing his dark side in the fight and pounding Ellenberger into pulp for his verbal disrespect must be wondering what happened.

Did MacDonald play it safe because there was no reason to vent his fury on an opponent who popped off and played the role of a bully and then backed off – literally – when it came time to fight? Was he rusty from inactivity?

You could point to several factors, but the bottom line is MacDonald won and from this fight he can take some lessons going forward.

But the lesson to be learned once again is that no matter what transpires leading up to a fight there are no guarantees in the fight game. You pay your money to watch in person or invest your time watching on television without knowing what will happen.

Fortunately, it was the only dull fight in what became an exciting main card and prevented the evening from becoming Sleep In Seattle.

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