Rory MacDonald considered giving up, figuratively throwing in the towel and being healthy to fight for another day.
But the “Red King” pushed those negative thoughts from his brain, despite a nasty leg injury sustained in the fight against Douglas Lima on Saturday night at Bellator 192. MacDonald persevered — even with a massive hematoma on his shin — and ended up beating Lima by unanimous decision to capture the Bellator welterweight title.
“Yeah, a few times,” MacDonald told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, regarding having thoughts of giving up. “It went through my head. But I just kept pushing through it. I had to dig deep a few times and just break down some mental barriers and keep pushing.
“Any fight that I’ve had to endure a lot of punishment and keep going forward, yeah. Your mind always plays tricks on you and wants you to give in and it’s just being disciplined and being able to push through those doubts and anxieties.”
MacDonald said he’s still in a lot of pain now, two days after the fight. He hasn’t flown home to Canada from Los Angeles yet due to the bad swelling. He’s on crutches and hopes to fly out later Monday night. MacDonald said it’s only a hematoma — there are no structural issues — but this was the worst pain he has had in a fight, even worse than the damage he absorbed in wars against the likes of Robbie Lawler.
“Hard to compare,” MacDonald said. “A physical pain, I’d say this one was the worst, for sure. I would say this one was the worst as far as pain goes.”
MacDonald (20-4) has become known for his toughness and will. Saturday was just another mark in that box. Winning the title was even sweeter, he said, because he did it on essentially one leg.
“I was definitely emotional,” MacDonald said. “Especially going through a fight like that for the belt. It was a special moment for me, because I got to push those mental barriers to get to this championship. It was a nice feeling. It was a hard fight, it was a close one. It was something I really appreciated and I’ll always remember.”
It was Lima’s leg kicks to the calf that hurt MacDonald’s leg as early as the first round, MacDonald said. The kicks changed the way MacDonald had to approach the fight, which is why afterward he said Lima was his toughest opponent.
“I think he just came in the most prepared, for one,” MacDonald said. “I could just tell by little things he was doing. He was keying to a lot of things I like to do. So, he gave me a lot of problems for that. I could tell he knew how to stop some of my attacks that I wanted to use. Another reason is he’s just powerful everywhere. Whenever he hit me, I felt his power. So that was another issue that disrupted some of my game.”
In some ways, MacDonald said he underestimated Lima’s striking. He had to switch to southpaw to attempt to neutralize those devastating low kicks.
“I knew he was good at leg kicks,” MacDonald said. “I didn’t expect the low leg kicks to be problem, but they were fast and powerful. I wasn’t able to block them very well.
“After the first one, I knew I didn’t want to get hit with another one. And in the first round I was already pretty hurt by them. By the third, I was struggling pretty badly with it.”
MacDonald, 28, used his wrestling and grappling more than he wanted to, most likely. He talked before the fight about making it a war, but he won with guile, fight IQ and technique. In the third round, Lima badly hurt MacDonald’s left leg and the fight seemed to turn there. But MacDonald came out and arguably won the next two rounds. He clearly won the fifth and final one to secure the victory.
“I’m happy that I was able to push through those barriers, like I said,” MacDonald said. “Those aren’t easy moments in a fight to get through. I was happy that I was able to stay focused on the prize and just keep going forward and stay focused on what I had to do, regardless of how I was feeling. I had to change things up in the fight. I would have liked to have fought differently, but I had to adjust. The fight went the way it did because of that.”
MacDonald said he had to battle his own head at times, along with Lima.
“Your mind is going a thousand miles an hour,” MacDonald said. “The thoughts come into your head about giving up and if it’s worth it. They all race through your head. And you think while you’re doing it. All those thoughts in milliseconds. A couple moments when I was really struggling, I just found myself silently in my head praying to God to give me the strength to push through these barriers. I was able to do it because of that I think.”
MacDonald said he expects to be back in action sometime around June. He does not expect any permanent issues due to the leg injury. MacDonald said he is hoping his first title defense can come in his native Canada, but he also has plans to move up to middleweight and challenge for that title.
For now, though, he can heal his leg and celebrate his first major title victory. MacDonald, who owns a win over UFC champion Tyron Woodley, was asked by Helwani if he felt like he is now the best welterweight in the world.
“Yeah,” he said, “I do.”