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No longer afraid to show his true self, Rory MacDonald’s Bellator plan is multifaceted

Bellator

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — There was a time when Rory MacDonald was trying to be someone else other than himself.

Growing up in Canada, MacDonald idolized Georges St-Pierre, the former UFC welterweight champion and one of the greatest fighters of all time. MacDonald even moved from British Columbia to Montreal, in part to train at St-Pierre’s Tristar Gym.

Rather than being the first Rory MacDonald, MacDonald admits now that he was trying more to be GSP 2.0.

“I was looking up to him a lot at one point in my career,” MacDonald told MMA Fighting recently in a sit-down interview. “I was trying to copy his style, this and that. Copy his fighting style, things like that. Trying to emulate a lot of what I’ve seen of him. He was a figure I looked up to as a young kid.”

MacDonald, 28, spent the bulk of his run in the UFC at Tristar. It’s hard to believe he’s now a 12-year MMA veteran, having begun the sport as a professional when he was just 16 years old.

During that time, St-Pierre’s name constantly came up in interviews. MacDonald was a burgeoning welterweight, the same division which GSP ruled for many years. MacDonald felt like he was in St-Pierre’s shadow. There’s no ill will, but MacDonald heading into 2018 is his own man, he said.

“As time grew on, that’s not me,” MacDonald said of emulating GSP. “That’s not really genuine to myself. So as you grow up, I guess you just get a more clear picture of who you are inside and how to broadcast that.”

MacDonald will challenge Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight title at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 here in the Los Angeles area. He left the UFC when his contract ran out in 2016. Bellator is promoting him like one of its biggest attractions — and he is.

Once upon a time, MacDonald would not have been comfortable with that. He wanted nothing to do with the media.

That’s one of the things that has changed most for MacDonald as he heads into what he hopes is a successful Bellator stint. He wishes MMA could be all about what he does inside the cage. But he understands now it’s not. MacDonald’s brand was once not giving a crap; now he’s embraced that aspect of the sport.

“[I have] just a better sense of building a brand and letting people know who I am rather than just saying, ‘I don’t care if you know who I am, I’m gonna beat someone up,’” MacDonald said.

What MacDonald hopes to do with Bellator is be himself and open about that. He wants to promote, but he doesn’t want to pretend to be someone he is not. The turtlenecks, unique fashion sense, thousand-mile stares and “Canadian Psycho” nickname encompass that. MacDonald is a unique guy and he’ll just let the fans take it from there.

“I have that side of me, too, where I get that,” MacDonald said of the perception of a stone-faced killer persona. “I’m monotone. I’m a little bit more introverted than maybe some of the big personalities in the sport. I’m not a big personality. They’ve seen my staredowns. I get it. That’s part of me.

“You’ve gotta roll with some things. At the same time, things you see me do, it’s natural for me. Some things are a little more forced. But I’m just trying to be me in all this craziness.”

Being OK with some of the more pro-wrestling aspects of mixed martial arts is part of MacDonald’s greater plan. He admittedly wants to build up his brand with Bellator, and not just as someone who wins the welterweight title and defends it over and over.

MacDonald recently offered to be an alternative in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament. He’s talked about taking title belts in three different weight classes — specifically a fight with light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.

Chael Sonnen? Gegard Mousasi? It’s all on the table, MacDonald hopes.

Bellator is the place, MacDonald believes, where he can get those unique matchups and they’ll give him the platform to promote himself, to boot.

“I want exciting fights,” MacDonald said. “But I need to bring my promotion level up, I need to get a foundation and I feel like Bellator is the place for me to get that and to have those big opportunities, where the UFC there’s so much sh*t going on. I just don’t see myself fitting into that right now the way it is. Who knows down the road. There’s a lot that can happen in the next few years, but right now this is gonna be a great place for me to just grow everything.

“They have more light on me. I’m gonna get big opportunities, big fights where maybe I wouldn’t get that in the UFC, where I’d maybe get stuck in those fights, they’re on the pay-per-view, but it’s not the main fight on the card.”

At this stage, MacDonald doesn’t want to be caught up in the UFC milieu, just fighting contenders that few people outside of hardcore fans have ever heard of and seeing others who are less deserving get title shots based on trash talk.

Ultimately, though, he wants to be known as the best fighter in the world. MacDonald acknowledges that is tough to do outside the UFC, but he believes his strategy — from the kinds of fights he takes to the attention Bellator will give him — will work.

“I feel like I am the best in the world,” MacDonald said. “It’s just not my place right now over there [in the UFC]. It’s not where I fit in. I feel like I’m in a good place right now to build my relationship with how people perceive me. It’s a good stage for it. So I’m gonna be put on this stage, get big fights, main events, title fights. I’ll get paid for it and I’ll be building my brand. In good time and with the performances, I perceive that spotlight being back on me. My end goal would be for people to perceive me as the real world champion.”

Money, of course, is a major factor, too. MacDonald said he’s happy with his Bellator contract and the fact that he can wear his own sponsors again without Bellator having an apparel deal like the UFC does with Reebok.

MacDonald finished Paul Daley by second-round submission back in June in his Bellator debut. Now he’ll get a chance at one of the best welterweights in the world in Lima.

From there? Who knows.

MacDonald has laid out his goals and plans. The actual path, though, is largely unknown.

“It’s the start of this chapter with Bellator,” MacDonald said. “It’s endless possibilities and matchups.”

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