The Rory MacDonald of 2013 is a very different specimen from the youngster who ran roughshod over the welterweight division throughout his first few years inside the UFC. His ferocity replaced by a measured sense of restraint, MacDonald finally fell victim to his own evolution at UFC 167, where he lost a bruising split decision to Robbie Lawler.
Though however damaging it may have been, the loss could ultimately wind up being the best thing for the 24-year-old.
"I needed it," a candid MacDonald admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"I think it's a collection of things, it's been leading up to (this). I think it's just my mental state, the way I've been thinking leading up to fights. I've been more interested in after the fight, rather than getting into the fight.
"My fights before," he continued, "The most exciting point for me was actually getting into the fight. I was hungry. I wanted to destroy my opponents, and I was hungry. I had that fire in me to fight. I think it shows in both of my performances this year, that I didn't have that fire."
While MacDonald may have suffered only the second setback of his young career, in retrospect the symptoms of his detachment were evident even during his late-July win over Jake Ellenberger, which aired live on FOX and received heavy criticism from fans and UFC President Dana White alike.
"I just don't think I was interested," MacDonald admitted. "I felt like my Ellenberger fight, I think I fought a really good fight. I was technically on-point, I was sharp, and watching the fight I wasn't disappointed. But I didn't have fun at the end of the day, and that's what I do this for. I want to express myself when I'm up there, like an artist painting a picture. It's just basically self-expression for me, and I don't think I did that in these last two fights this year.
"I didn't enjoy them. I didn't walk out of the cage knowing that I had fun. Usually, win or lose, in my fights in the past, I've always had fun. I've always enjoyed my time fighting. This year I didn't enjoy fighting."
It's become a cliché for losing fighters to justify the experience as a positive, saying that it led them back to a reborn sense of motivation. For MacDonald, though, whether it's the surprising honesty with which he spoke, or the hint of anger caught in his throat, the sentiment appears very real indeed.
"Everything was coming very easy for me the last three years since losing to Carlos (Condit). The fights were going very smoothly, and I just felt like, wow, it's becoming very easy. So I kind of let my guard down a bit," he said.
"I needed to lose. I needed to get into a hard fight. I'm very motivated, more than ever now. I'm very hungry. I feel like I have that fire back."
MacDonald acknowledged that while he thought his clash with Lawler was a close fight which could've gone either way, at the end of the day it didn't matter because he would've felt the same disappointment even if the judges' scorecards had read differently.
He repeatedly characterized his performance as "garbage" and "embarrassing," and revealed that he already asked the UFC to book him a new fight, to which they obliged.
"It should be announced soon, I'm sure," MacDonald said without elaborating on an opponent or date, other than the fact that'll be contested in 2014.
"It's not a bad fight, that's for sure. It's very motivating."
Aside from a swollen ankle and a battered sense of pride, MacDonald managed to escape from UFC 167 relatively unscathed. He generally takes some time off after fights, but this time a determined MacDonald was back under Tristar's roof a week later, and it showed, as a splotched dark shiner rested heavily under his left eye throughout the interview.
Despite how things have played out, MacDonald's goal remains the same. He plans to become UFC welterweight champion. If he has his way, this moment in time will be only a valuable bump in the road.
"I really think so. I have that fire back and it's a good feeling," MacDonald vowed. "When I think about fighting, I want to go in and I want to smash someone. I want my next opponent to be crying in the backroom. I want them to be scared of me. I just want to hurt someone, and that's the kind of mind frame you have to be in. 2013 wasn't like that for me. But now it is."