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Daley the perfect pairing for MacDonald’s Bellator debut

Rory MacDonald between rounds against Robbie Lawler during their welterweight title fight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 189 Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

For the first time since the turn of the decade, Rory MacDonald will walk to a mixed martial arts cage without those three iconic letters printed on his fighting gloves. He no longer has an association with the UFC, parting ways with the premier MMA organization to compete under a different banner.

Now 27 and 22 fights into his pro career, MacDonald heads to the well-regarded No. 2 promotion on the planet, Bellator MMA. The decision to take his talents elsewhere came to the surprise of few; MacDonald had previously expressed his concerns about the UFC, and his willingness to discuss his options elsewhere.

He was also just the latest fighter to make use of the free-agent waters, letting his contract expire and testing the market to determine his worth. As it turned out, Bellator valued MacDonald highly enough to secure his name as part of its now un-ignorable roster. “The Red King” joins fellow former UFC fighters Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Chael Sonnen, Benson Henderson, Matt Mitrione and Wanderlei Silva, among others, competing for the Viacom-owned promotion.

MacDonald was not the first to leave the UFC, and he certainly won’t be the last. His departure, however, feels different. He spent a majority of his career in the UFC, since he was 20 years old.

The young Canadian fighter, in many ways, was groomed to become an elite fighter in the UFC, never so much as given a moment to catch his breath from the day he arrived. He was tasked with fighting Carlos Condit in his second bout, followed by a shot against Nate Diaz. MacDonald has since fought the who’s who that the UFC had to offer, including B.J. Penn, Robbie Lawler (twice), Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson.

He comes to Bellator an elite fighter who already has tested his mettle against the elite contenders of the 170-pound division. As was the consensus when the likes of Henderson and Davis arrived on scene, MacDonald is expected to have his way against Bellator’s brightest.

It all starts Friday, as MacDonald faces former UFC and perennial Bellator contender Paul Daley.

A blistering knockout artist who has made his presence felt in every promotion he has competed in, Daley is about as ideal a dance partner as MacDonald could have asked for upon arrival. Despite coming from the UFC, MacDonald couldn’t have warranted an immediate title shot while coming off two decisive losses. A win over Daley would fix that slight dilemma.

Beating Daley shouldn’t be too difficult, either. Where previous UFC castoffs like Henderson and Sonnen took tall tasks to make a first impression, MacDonald isn’t. “Semtex” has a tremendous KO history, but he has never been recognized as much of a complete mixed martial artist. He has lost 14 pro fights, with a majority of those defeats stemming from his inability to defend the takedown. The path to beating Daley — the one with least resistance, by far — comes by grappling.

And while MacDonald might be promising fans a thrilling affair, his sharp selection of coaches likely understand that entertaining the Bellator faithful isn’t quite as important as actually winning the fight.

“They’re going to see an action-packed fight,” MacDonald told MMAjunkie’s Chamatkar Sandhu. “And they’ll see a very violent version of myself pushing the fight and putting this guy away, eventually.

“I think I can give Paul troubles in any aspect of mixed martial arts, even though he is a specialist in the kickboxing department. I think he’s got a lot to deal with in me, so I think that’s the biggest threat.”

With a win, MacDonald would automatically insert himself in the title picture, primed to either face champion Douglas Lima or upcoming challenger (and fellow former UFC fighter) Lorenz Larkin.

That, however, would be just the first title MacDonald has his sights set on.

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