By Adam Martin
Most fighters are ecstatic when they achieve victory inside the Octagon, but once the feeling of winning rubs off for Rory MacDonald, if he wins his sixth UFC fight next weekend, the young Canadian is going to have a very difficult career choice to make.
In the co-main event of next weekend’s UFC on Sportsnet: Johnson vs. Moraga event, the young Canadian MacDonald faces off against Jake Ellenberger in a pivotal welterweight matchup between two top-10 fighters.
The winner of the fight, according to UFC president Dana White, will be closing in at a shot at the UFC welterweight championship.
“This is a great fight. I’m really excited about this fight,” White told reporters this week on the UFC on a media conference call. “Both guys are explosive, dynamic, finishers, two of the top guys in the division. The guy who wins this fight is right up there and close to a title shot.”
Watch five hours of UFC action Saturday, July 27 on Sportsnet 360 as coverage of UFC on Sportsnet: Johnson vs. Moraga begins at 5pm ET / 2pm PT
The only problem is that the UFC welterweight title is currently held by MacDonald’s friend and training partner, Georges St-Pierre, and MacDonald has said in the past that he has no interest in fighting St-Pierre — at least not this early in his career and while there are plenty of fresh matchups in the welterweight division for the 23-year-old nicknamed “Ares.”
White is okay with MacDonald evading the questions about GSP for now, but even the UFC president believes it’s possible the two may be the top two welterweights in the world one day and that’s when MacDonald will open up about a possible fight against his friend and mentor.
“I don’t think that Rory ever said he wouldn’t fight GSP. Rory said he doesn’t want to talk about fighting GSP. I don’t think he’s ever said he won’t fight GSP,” White said. “When that day comes, when he gets to that place where it’s time for GSP vs. Rory MacDonald, I’m sure that’s when Rory will talk about fighting GSP.”
However, White might not have realized it while he was answering the question, but it’s very possible the day MacDonald and GSP could fight is a lot sooner than he knows.
After Johny Hendricks, the list of fresh contenders to fight St-Pierre is thin. There’s of course Ellenberger, who would likely be next in line for a shot at the belt if he knocks out MacDonald, and then there’s Demian Maia and former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine.
But that’s it as far as new matchups for GSP go, as the rest of the top 10 is littered with fighters like Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Josh Koscheck, who have all already had their chance to beat GSP and all came up short.
That’s why MacDonald is going to have to make a really difficult career choice with a win over Ellenberger, a win that puts him right up in the welterweight ranks: Either stay at 170 pounds and not fight GSP, stay at 170 and leave the Tristar Gym and fight GSP, or just move up to middleweight and avoid the GSP scenario altogether.
And it’s a move to 185 pounds that is particularly intriguing because MacDonald is already one of the biggest welterweights in the division and he’s still growing. It’s possible he might not even be able to fit into a 170-pound frame within a couple years.
MacDonald admitted on the call the move to 185 is something he’s thought about, but he also said his focus is 100 per cent on Ellenberger, and rightly so.
“Uh yeah, I just gotta focus on this fight for now,” MacDonald said. “My whole career has been kinda going with the flow. Everything changes after each fight. I’ll see where I am after this fight and assess the options after this fight.
But while MacDonald can say this week that he just wants to focus on Ellenberger, he’ll have to answer these questions with more than an “I don’t know” if he goes into the cage next weekend in Seattle and walks out with an impressive win over “The Juggernaut,” because there’s no doubt that MacDonald vs. GSP is a big fight and it’s the fight the fans want to see.
For now, though, let’s see if MacDonald can get through Ellenberger because this is arguably the toughest test of his career so far and a dominant showing would certainly indicate that the hype behind him is real.
If he does that, then let’s see what his answer to the GSP question is because it may be different than what his answer was this week.