It was good to see Rory MacDonald back in the cage, even if it was a new one not limited to just eight sides. It was cool to watch him shut out a partisan London crowd for his Bellator debut, to cast that loveable “playing with your organs makes me feel nothing” gaze on Paul Daley. And it was downright refreshing to see MacDonald take care of business the way he did. MacDonald didn’t waste too much time trading with the power broker Daley, who was fresh off his KOTY nomination over Brennan Ward. He just wiped the canvas with him, working more guards than you can find at Buckingham Palace, before finally tapping him with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
MacDonald came out in mint condition. He was back in the same neatly pressed psychosuit he arrived in with nary a nick, in time for last call at the Lamb & Flag.
That’s one hell of a debut.
And it was a sight better than the last couple of times we saw MacDonald, who had his nose shattered in one of the greatest, most harrowing fights on record against Robbie Lawler back at UFC 189. MacDonald refractured that nose against Stephen Thompson in what was his final UFC fight last June, and his time of convalescence served as a segue for him to greener pastures. That came in the form of Bellator. MacDonald took nearly a year to resurface, but it was well worth it. The MacDonald that just rolled right through Daley was a reminder of the one that beat the likes of Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia and Tarec Saffiedine — and dropped Lawler off at death’s door.
It was also a reminder that, don’t look now, but Bellator’s got a good-looking welterweight division. MacDonald now awaits the winner of the big June 24 show at Madison Square Garden, when current champion Douglas Lima will defend against another Bellator newcomer, Lorenz Larkin. That fight takes on additional gravity with the presence of MacDonald hovering over it. It’s very unBellatorian to have an obvious horizon. This is how it should work.
What’s even better is that the periphery is filling in, as well. Michael Page, a kind of asterisked sensation who is waiting his first “real challenge,” was cageside for the MacDonald-Daley fight. He was supposed to face Derek Anderson on the card, but fell out with a knee injury. Yet that fight is all but forgotten now that Daley and Page nearly came to blows after Friday’s main event. In some ways, Daley stole the headlines by setting the table for a clash with “MVP.”
(Daley’s one of those feisty cats you’ve got to keep an eye on after a fight -- the man is full of extracurriculars).
It’s a healthy division that Bellator has up and running, especially as you remember that Andrei Koreshkov is looming out there, too. It looks all the more healthy with Woodley and Maia — two MacDonald victims — are getting ready to fight for the UFC’s welterweight title at some point in the near future. What made MacDonald a prized free agent? Exactly that. His resume is a document of butchery. His casualty list can stand up to anybody’s.
And really, that was the best thing that came out of his debut in Bellator. MacDonald bucked a kind of disturbing trend. Benson Henderson, who was the best free agent acquisition before MacDonald, found himself rag dolled against the bigger Koreshkov in his debut. Matt Mitrione got clubbed by Carl Seumanutafa before snapping back to consciousness and winning his debut. Koscheck’s Bellator debut against Mauricio Alonso was lamentable, and Josh Thomson hasn’t exactly been a fire starter in his reunion with Scott Coker.
MacDonald is different. At 27 years old, he is still in his prime. He’s never been a champion, which gives him motivation. He’s splitting his training at his childhood home of Kelowna, which has (apparently) given him a sense of revival. He’s the same dead-eyed killer that made a name for himself, and it was in evidence in that fight with Paul Daley. One key addition opens up a realm of possibility.
MacDonald was that addition, and business just picked up in Bellator’s welterweight division.