Rory MacDonald will be the first to admit he was conflicted about his career in recent years.
Just moments after a majority draw against Jon Fitch while he was competing in the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix, MacDonald sounded more like a fighter on his way out of the sport rather than someone motivated to continue competing.
He fought in Bellator two more times after that night before leaving the promotion and signing a new deal to join the PFL roster. Following over a year off due to the global pandemic, MacDonald returned to action in April and made quick work of UFC veteran Curtis Millender with a first-round rear-naked choke.
Now as he prepares for his next fight in June, the 31-year-old Canadian is reinvigorated while addressing past doldrums that led to less than stellar performances.
“I feel like I’m re-motivated,” MacDonald told MMA Fighting. “I’ve set new goals for myself that I’m passionate to accomplish. The past few years kind of after I won the title in Bellator, I kind of let myself get comfortable. I lost focus on what I even wanted to achieve so I was fighting more for the lifestyle outside of fighting and not really hungry to accomplish anything inside the sport. I think I lost my focus there and unknowingly led me down a trail of not even knowing if wanted to do this sport anymore.
“A bit of time off gave me a chance to address those issues and get back to hard work and chasing down my goals.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, MacDonald is anxious to win the PFL welterweight tournament this year and pocket the $1 million prize, but more importantly he wants to stake his claim to a title that he started pursuing after making his professional debut almost 16 years ago.
“I feel like it’s been in my heart since I first found mixed martial arts to be the best in the world,” MacDonald said. “I’m hunting that position down.”
Of course, MacDonald’s aspirations will be met with resistance considering he’s competing in the PFL rather than fighting the welterweights on the UFC roster.
Prior to his exodus to Bellator and eventually the PFL, MacDonald was a mainstay in the UFC where he was routinely considered one of the best fighters on the roster. He competed in one of the greatest title fights in history when he engaged in an absolute war with Robbie Lawler back in 2013.
While he still has the utmost respect for fighters still competing in the UFC, MacDonald disputes the idea that all of the best mixed martial artists are in that particular organization.
“I’ve trained with so many guys that have never been in the UFC and they’ve been some of the toughest rounds, as well as the guys in the UFC,” MacDonald said. “Some guys in the UFC are just not even as good as some of these guys I’ve worked with in the past. There’s definitely no merit there. It’s just something people assume and because of the promotion and the big show, it’s assumed that.
“But because I’ve been there, kind of made a name for myself, I’ve been a champion in Bellator, I have some experience, guys are coming in in my division looking to make a name off themselves, stepping up. A lot of them think my best days are behind me but to their surprise, I think they’re going to see my best days are ahead of me.”
Knowing that the competition in the PFL was just as good as what he faced in the UFC allowed MacDonald to be prepared for whatever was being thrown at him during this current season.
Just a week before he debuted, MacDonald saw the talent the organization boasts after witnessing several upsets including former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis suffering a setback in his first PFL fight when he fell to Clay Collard.
For his part, MacDonald refuses to live off past successes and just because an opponent isn’t a household name with UFC experience doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the best fighters in the world.
“I’ve been around different organizations, as well as the UFC, and I know full well that even though the media and the promotion with the UFC is so big, so guys are presented to be the best in the world there even though guys that are outside the UFC and just haven’t made a name for themselves, they’re just as dangerous,” MacDonald said.
“Guys in the PFL, they’re hungry, they’re motivated to make a name for themselves. They’re up-and-coming and they’re ready to fight hard so you can’t look past that at all.”