TORONTO — Rory (Red King) MacDonald was broken physically and mentally after his 2015 loss to then-UFC champion (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler at UFC 189.
"My life was kind of going in a downward direction … I was really struggling with a lot of internal things and just a lot of bad energy around me," MacDonald said. "Living destructively."
The man once dubbed the Canadian Psycho is walking a different path these days.
He remains Bellator welterweight champion, a well-rounded MMA fighter set to defend his 170-pound title in April as part of an eight-man Grand Prix. But the 29-year-old B.C. native, who calls Montreal home these days, is a changed man.
"I don’t consider myself a fighter first any more like I used to," he explained. "I was all fight, all fight. And then I met my wife and basically shortly after I was going to church, things like that.
"Before you know it I was baptized. I accepted Christ as my lord and saviour. And things really changed. God really changed my life from where I was at where I first met my wife. "
"I’m a Christian, I’m a servant of God first. Not a fighter anymore, first," he added. "I also have a family so that comes before fighting. Fighting, it’s my sport that I’m passionate about, it’s a career, it’s how I provide for my family. But it’s not what defines who I am."
McDonald credits wife Olivia, whom he met several months after the Lawler loss, for starting the turnaround.
"She basically met me at my worst … The way I was living was not who I really was. She was patient with me and by the grace of God, things turned out great."
Their family now includes two-year-old daughter Maia with a son due in August.
In July 2015, MacDonald met Lawler for a second time. He had lost their first meeting by split decision at UFC 167 in November 2013 — a fight he though he won.
The rematch was savage, with both fighters taking significant damage. MacDonald connected on 86 significant strikes while Lawler found a home for 70 of his own, with 97 per cent of them landing on MacDonald’s head, according to FightMetric.
At the end of the fourth round, there was a memorable moment as the two blood-spattered fighters stared each other down before retreating to their corner.
"Five minutes and you win," said Firas Zahabi, MacDonald’s coach.
MacDonald lasted one minute. His nose smashed by Lawler’s heavy hands, the pain was too much to continue. Lawler didn’t look much better, his lip slashed as if someone had taken a boxcutter to it.
Looking back at those days, MacDonald says he was holding anger within. "God took that away from me. Thank God."
And he says he now know he has a future outside of fighting when he hangs up the gloves.
"God’s going to have something next for me. He’s going to use me in a different way. For now he’s using me in this field, so I’m going to do my best for him."
After leaving the UFC in 2016, MacDonald submitted Paul (Semtex) Daley in his Bellator debut before claiming the welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Douglas (The Phenom) Lima in January 2018.
A bid to move up in weight and challenge for the Bellator middleweight title ended badly last September when champion Gegard (The Dreamcatcher) Mousasi stopped him in the second round of a one-sided battle.
Getting married two weeks before the fight did little for his focus. And knowing he did not have to cut weight, his nutrition suffered. "I had a bit of a dad-bod going on," he said.
"I never really pushed deep waters like I usually do for a fight and focus mentally," he added. "It was just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’ll train somewhat hard. I’ll get through the wedding and I’ll just fight and however it’ll go, it’ll go. I mean I’m going up to middleweight, it’s a win-win. If I get beat up like I did, I’ll move on and go back to my thing.’
"I just didn’t stress enough about it. I didn’t focus. I didn’t care."
MacDonald got to go on a delayed honeymoon in the aftermath of the Mousasi loss. He and his wife spent time in Israel, Egypt and Jordan and also visited Miami.
"Before I became a Christian, I wouldn’t have ever been interested in going there but it was a beautiful trip," he said. "I’d like to go back to Israel."
MacDonald (20-5-0) is currently training for an April 27 date in San Jose with 41-year-old Jon Fitch (31-7-1 with one no contest) in the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. The winner will face Neiman Gracie (9-0-0) in one semifinal. The other semifinal has Lima (30-7-0) meeting Michael (Venom) Page (14-0-0).
As champion, MacDonald will put his title on the line every time he fights in the tournament.
He feels his focus is back where it should be. He has changed up his training, adding a new kickboxing coach and returning to fitness guru Jon Chaimberg.
"I feel like I have that intensity back in my training," he said. "I already feel like I’m in better shape than when I fought Mousasi."
MacDonald is also confident that his nose, which has taken a beating in recent bouts, has healed. Unlike previous bouts, he had it realigned after the Mousasi fight and believes it is fine.
Despite taking his lumps, MacDonald is relatively unscathed physically. While a slight bump on his nose adds character, he chuckles when he’s told he does not look like a fighter.
"Praise God," he said.