Rory MacDonald has been stuck on the sidelines since July, when he competed opposite UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in one of the greatest fights of the sport's young history. However that inactivity hasn't been by choice.
MacDonald revealed Monday on The MMA Hour that his time on the shelf has been the result of a lengthy -- and ultimately failed -- negotiation period with the UFC, as his upcoming June 18 bout against Stephen Thompson represents the last fight of his current UFC contract. And with talks having reached a standstill, "The Red King" made his intentions clear: one of the world's best welterweights is "very willing" to test the free agency waters once his contract ends after UFC Fight Night 89.
"I want to make the most money I can. I want to get paid for what I bring to the table," MacDonald said. "I've sacrificed a lot to get to the top, to the world title. I really sacrificed, and I took a lot of chances. I did a lot of favors, I felt like, for the UFC and I don't think it got returned. So now it's all about making money, and whoever wants to pay me the most is where I'll go."
MacDonald, 26, is the latest and perhaps most intriguing UFC star yet to express an interest in testing his value on the open market, attaching his name to a recent trend that has seen several others -- from Benson Henderson to Alistair Overeem to Matt Mitrione -- eschew early renegotiations with the UFC to instead roll the dice and bet on themselves in free agency.
MacDonald said his focus shifted towards the financials in the aftermath of his rematch with Lawler at UFC 189. Despite sustaining heavy damage competing in an all-time great fight on one of 2015's biggest pay-per-views, MacDonald earned a disclosed salary of $59,000 against Lawler, making him only the sixth-highest paid fighter of the card.
"The experience itself, the fight was great. I loved it. It was a great thing for me and my martial arts career," MacDonald said. "But, you know, a performance like that and everything I did leading up to it in my career with the UFC, I feel like I should be left a little bit more financially stable. I still make good money, but I still feel that I was worth more. That I brought more to the table than what I really got.
"So I just have to really fight for what is right, on the business side now. And I guess getting to that point, to the world title and stuff, after a hard fight like that, it just opened my eyes to it. Okay, now it's time to get a little more business savvy rather than just do whatever just to get to the big fight."
MacDonald first joined the UFC in 2010 as a 20-year-old Canadian prospect with a name to watch. Since that time he has racked up a 9-3 record while establishing himself as one of the best welterweights in the world, besting the likes of Tyron Woodley, Nate Diaz, and Demian Maia, among many others. Even against Lawler, MacDonald led on all three judges' scorecards until a fifth-round assault cut short his shot at the title.
Through it all, MacDonald said he tried his best to be a company man by never turning down a fight and always fulfilling his promotional obligations with professionalism.
Yet the road to fighting out his contract has been frustrating in more ways than one, as MacDonald originally agreed to fight Hector Lombard at a UFC Fight Night 84 bout in London that never came to fruition.
"I'll tell you exactly what happened," MacDonald said "We'd been in negotiations with my new contract since my last fight, but they'd offered me to fight Hector next, so I said definitely, let's do it. So I think they booked me for the last London card there, and I was like, no problem, let's get it. Right about when I was going to start training camp, they said, ‘okay, we don't feel that you're ready because you haven't started sparring yet.' But I never told them that I was not ready or I wasn't healthy with my nose or whatever. Like, they just asked me if I had started sparring. I said no, I was going to wait until training camp started to get back into it. And they were like, ‘okay, we're to postpone it until the Australia card.'
"It was like, well, I want to fight in London. I don't want to be flying that far to go fight this guy. So I was like, I'll tell you what, I'll fight in Australia, but give me my new contract. They apparently weren't willing to do that because the next thing that happened was they booked him (Lombard) with Neil Magny.
"I'm not fighting over there for $50,000," MacDonald continued. "I'll fight in London or somewhere a little closer, or in North America, but that's a longass way to make a little money."
Ultimately, the situation worked itself out, as MacDonald landed Thompson as a new opponent in nearby Ottawa, Ontario. MacDonald considers the fight to be a tougher proposition than the Lombard fight, but also one that "does more" for his career, and he is willing to gamble on himself if it leads to a bigger payday in the end.
With his first child -- a baby girl -- set to arrive in July, MacDonald understands better than ever before that his window to capitalize in the fight game is short. He remains the UFC's most viable shot to recapture a drifting Canadian market, and while he obviously still has goals he wants to accomplish inside the Octagon, his main priorities have shifted towards securing a better future for his family -- and that all starts on June 18.
"I'd rather not go through it (free agency). I mean, I'd rather just agree on something with the UFC and move forward," MacDonald said. "But we'll see what happens. I'm very willing to do it though, if that means making more money.
"My gut tells me... I don't know," MacDonald finished. "I don't even know any more. I'm just going to do what I have to do, what I can control. I'm going to go in there and try to have the best performance of my life, and then my job is done."