LAS VEGAS -- For each of his last two fights, the Rory MacDonald who seemed on the verge of superstardom was nowhere to be found -- first in a tentative win over Jake Ellenberger, then in a loss to Robbie Lawler.
Saturday night, MacDonald the welterweight title contender reemerged. In a thrilling back-and-forth battle at UFC 170, the Tri Star fighter shook off a poor first round and rallied to defeat Demian Maia. The judges' scores at Mandalay Bay were 29-28 across the board.
Maia schooled MacDonald on the ground in the opening round, scoring takedowns and delivering brutal punishment from the top. In the second round, though, MacDonald the killer reemerged, as he picked apart Maia with his combos and kicks. He also effortlessly stuffed most of Maia's takedown attempts, as Maia visibly tired as the round progressed.
But Maia wasn't quite done. A scramble after an initial takedown attempt by Maia eventually ended up with Maia landing a big slam. MacDonald needed several attempted to shake Maia off him, but he eventually did, and scrambled to his feet.
MacDonald picked up the pace from there, peppering Maia with strikes and avoiding his takedown attempts.
"I just tried to stay calm out there," MacDonald said. "I knew the way I reacted against a guy of his caliber would make the difference."
MacDonald improved to 16-2. Maia lost his second straight fight to drop to 18-6.