Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
ATLANTA -- Perhaps it's just a coincidence that two fighters with the same surname -- minus one letter -- are featured in two of the more important matchups at UFC 145. Perhaps. Rory MacDonald and Michael McDonald aren't related, but they have two things in common: youth, and a desire to complete a fast rise to the top of their respective weight classes.
At just 22 years old, Rory is already a UFC veteran, having gone 3-1 in his first four bouts to improve his overall record to 12-1 overall. Michael, a year younger at 21, is unbeaten in the UFC (3-0) and 14-1 overall. The two represent the new breed of mixed martial artist: hungry, young and complete.
Yet in some ways, that's about all they have in common. Their personalities, for one, are quite different. Rory is soft-spoken and economical on words. He's 6-feet tall and growing; he doesn't know how much longer he can make the 170-pound welterweight limit. McDonald is outgoing and social. He's listed at 5-foot-9, but that seems generous, and he's just 135 pounds.
Yet both are rising forces in their respective divisions. Rory so much so that teammate and divisional champ Georges St-Pierre is already being asked if he would consider fighting him in the not-too-distant future (the answer is no). He's on the outskirts of the division's top 10, and may deserve to be there; remember, his only career loss is to current interim champ Carlos Condit in a fight he was winning most of the win.
Michael might not be as well known as Rory, but he's actually ranked higher in most polls, though he competes in an admittedly thinner division. Still, a win over Miguel Torres will firmly establish him as a title threat among bantamweights.
While the placement of both MacDonald and McDonald on the same card might not have happened for any specific reason, the placement of Rory as the co-main event on what is likely to be one of the biggest pay-per-view offerings of the year is not.
This is part showcase and part test for him. The former because of all the extra eyeballs that will be tuned in prior to watching main-eventers Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, and the latter because he is facing an opponent in Che Mills who is dangerous yet fairly unknown. There will be interest in seeing how he handles the pressure and expectations of the major slot.
"I fight for myself, not for someone else's opinion," he said. "So I appreciate the compliments and recognition, but it doesn't affect my mind set."
From his demeanor though, you can't tell if he's actually having any fun on the road to stardom. Yet he's not afraid to make a statement when it's necessary. Not only with his performances, but he also noted that he's "creeping up" to St-Pierre's level, even if he also agrees he won't ever actually fight St-Pierre.
"I'm not big into drama," he said. "Me and Georges will work together, and hopefully he retires or he moves up. I'll wait my turn."
Everyone has their own approach to fight week, and his is the polar opposite of Michael's. He was all smiles during a light workout at Georgia State University just two days before the biggest fight of his life.
The matchup with Torres was one he'd desired for a while, maybe even one he'd fantasized about, thinking his own skills matched up well with the former WEC champ.
"Simply because I think he's good, but I think I'm better," he said when asked what drew him to the thought. "I think I match up stylistically well to him. I've never looked at him and said, 'If I customize myself to his style, I think I could beat him.' I've always just said, 'Me being me, I think I can beat him as him.' For this fight, I haven't watched a minute of footage because I've studied him. I already know that I could beat him, and that's all I need: just me being me."
Like Rory, Michael has proven to be a quick study in all aspects of the fight game. In his 14 career wins, he has 12 stoppages, a high number for a bantamweight. It wouldn't take a finish against Torres to get him noticed; a win would probably be enough. He's not putting much pressure on himself, but that doesn't mean there isn't much to gain with a victory.
The youngest two fighters on the UFC 145 card are looking to follow the lead of the guy closest to them in age: Jones. MacDonald and McDonald might sound like a law firm, but on Saturday night, they'll settle for being a two-man youth movement.
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