LAS VEGAS -- Firas Zahabi knew he'd start hearing it the moment he stepped off the plane at McCarran International Airport this week: Will Georges St-Pierre fight Rory MacDonald?
It's a question the head trainer at Montreal's Tri Star Gym has been asked on and off ever since it started to become clear that MacDonald was turning into a legitimate contender to St-Pierre's welterweight title.
But the talking point has never been more front and center than in the leadup to UFC 167 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Zahabi's Tri Star competitors are both in featured positions: St-Pierre defends his belt against Johny Hendricks the main event. MacDonald meets veteran Robbie Lawler on the main card.
If both dispose of their opponents, it bring the duo closer to what seems like an inevitable meeting.
But Zahabi says he doesn't want to be a part of it.
"People tell me, oh, you should have them fight each other," Zahabi said Wednesday in a one-on-one interview with MMAFighting.com. "I always tell myself, why would I do that? I spent so much time, for so many years, to work with them, to have this energy. Why would I betray one of them or turn my interest against one of them?"
MacDonald, too, got the "will you fight GSP?" questions from the outset of his media scrum at Wednesday's open workouts.
"I'm a young guy," the 24-year old MacDonald (15-1) said. "I've been brought up behind Georges the last few years. I understand where it [comparisons to St-Pierre] comes from. I get it. It's a part of it. It happens to all young guys, being compared to legends of the sport. All I can do is keep taking a step forward in my career."
Of course, the fact the duo appear on a collision course is no guarantee they'll ever collide. St-Pierre, for his part, has his hands full with Hendricks, a fighter who presents him a combination of wrestling talent and knockout power he's rarely faced in his career. And MacDonald is taking on no slouch in the resurgent Lawler, who is responsible for several highlight-reel knockouts.
If either Hendricks or Lawler land one of their big bombs, the GSP-MacDonald speculation becomes moot. Zahabi could only shake his head and smile at the task his camp faced.
"The UFC really sent me a doomsday package," Zahabi said. "They asked me, two of my best guys, my number one and my number three, to fight the two most explosive human beings in the welterweight division. I don't know if that's because they hate me or they love me, but I'm going to turn this into a positive."
In the most recent SBNation welterweight rankings, St-Pierre, obviously, took first place. Hendricks was second, followed by Condit and MacDonald. If GSP retains his title, and MacDonald scores an impressive victory over Lawler, which would mark his sixth straight win, the options for St-Pierre's next title defense narrow.
MacDonald could theoretically fight Hendricks or go after a rematch with Condit, the only man who defeated MacDonald, pending the result of Condit's December fight with Matt Brown. But a Condit-MacDonald rematch would leave St-Pierre without a viable next challenger.
MacDonald, though, won't let himself engage in such speculation.
"I'm not trying to be Georges," MacDonald said. "I'm just trying to be me. I can't control those things."
Ultimately, for Zahabi, while he knows why the questions are coming his way -- and really, the fact said questions are being asked at all are a testament to how far MacDonald has come under his watch -- he just can't see himself tinkering with a method that has worked thus far.
"I think Georges and Rory are in the top five in the defensive of not getting hit and the offensive, in accuracy," Zahabi said. "I think it is because they work together, they cooperate, and they train together. Why would I try to break this formula up? We're building fighters to the UFC. We're a machine that builds fighters. that's what the fans want, that's what the UFC wants.
"I think we're doing our job and we're doing our jobs. It's my job as a trainer to put my guys in a top fight. i can walk away and say I did a good job. I don't think we should become negative because we're successful."