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Rory MacDonald not only cashes in big, he becomes the example of how

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Don’t be thrown off by the dead pan, Rory MacDonald lives for excitement. That’s one of the reasons he bolted the UFC, because of just how boring and basic it was. The roster over there has slowly been converted into automatons in Reebok gear. Very Rollerball. MacDonald craves freedom in his cage, and so he’s going to fight in Bellator, where the money is better (for him) and the matchmakers shoot from the hip. He can wear what he wants on his trunks, whether it’s the Tire Barn or Nike or his own blood. He can walk out to whatever music he wants, no approval process, and there will be pyrotechnics warming his back.

No longer will it be Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler in front of him. The new names are Andrey Koreshkov and Michael Page. Steadily, Scott Coker is whipping up a nice little welterweight division, and MacDonald is instantly its most crucial piece. Or he will be, whenever he debuts in like a year from now, after his nose has had a chance to properly recalcify.

And it’s pretty significant.

If 2016 is the year of fighter awareness (USADA, unions, what things are worth), MacDonald just showed what the dawning age of free agency can mean. He’ll be making a hell of a lot more money per fight with Viacom, something like five times more. He’s a fighter who gambled on himself in his prime and, even after losing to Stephen Thompson in his last fight, cashed in. From the basic standpoint of his profession — prizefighting — he really couldn’t have done better.

But it’s significant, too, because this is one that the UFC had wanted to keep. This is when it gets interesting, at a moment in time when the UFC is forced to rev idly as fighters try to determine their worth. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s happening more and more. And MacDonald was a tough one to ultimately let go. He’s Canadian, for one thing, and Canada is a country that Dana White used to say the UFC would "visit every weekend" if it could. He’s also 27, and still fresh off a Fight of the Year against Lawler. His nose got good and crushed that night, but MacDonald’s star got brighter too. The shark-eyed Canadian Psycho. It helps, too, that he’s a top five fighter in his weight class.

MacDonald suspected his value was some place in the remote north of his disclosed $59,000/$59,000 from his last fight. He was right. As the old axiom goes, you are worth as much as somebody is willing to pay, and Bellator was more than willing to assign his value. It did the same to Gilbert Melendez by signing him to an offer sheet, only to have the UFC meet it (swearing a bit under the breath, to be sure). The subtext of these signings is "screw you, UFC." Right now, even with Will Brooks having finally found his escape route, Bellator comes off in the best interest of the fighters themselves.

Either it will pay, or it will force the UFC to pay.

When Phil Davis bounced from the UFC to Bellator, there was a broom pushing him in the direction. Benson Henderson, the former UFC lightweight champion who ended up making purgatorial moves (to welterweight, to last-minute fights), was ultimately an expendable piece in the grand scheme of things. Outspoken Matt Mitrione needed the change in scenery, and Josh Koscheck was an heirloom being returned to Spike. Some are free agents. Some are wayward souls. Some are reclamation projects with name value.

But MacDonald is quietly the first name to migrate that has more than a few ounces of genuine "game on" intrigue. He wasn’t a champion, but he busted up a couple. The UFC would have loved to keep him as a proven elite. But not at an absurd price. Is it Affliction absurd? No, this isn’t Tim Sylvia collecting $800,000 to stand in with Fedor. But it’s an absurd leap in pay for a guy riding back-to-back losses who hasn’t necessarily "moved the needle." (He did, however, make you contemplate the philosophical underpinnings of the needle itself, especially having emerged from the shadow of Conor McGregor at UFC 189).

It’s surprising that others in MacDonald’s station don’t do the same. It looked for a minute like Donald Cerrone might, especially considering he got in hot water for wearing a small piece of American flag on his trunks in Orlando, but he ended up signing an extension. You do get the feeling MacDonald is going to make his fellow fighters more introspective, though. MacDonald’s deal is a call to others to come join him at the Dave & Busters, where he and pot luck icons of MMA’s past are showing off their clean ankles, where the shackles used to be. Who knows how long Bellator will (or can) keep it up.

But right now, what it's doing is cause for some excitement.