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Rory MacDonald tried to ignore retirement, ‘but your body and your flesh kind of cries out to you’

Rory MacDonald on The MMA Hour

Rory MacDonald has been thinking about hanging up the gloves for a while now. But after this past weekend, “The Red King” knew for certain that the game wasn’t in him anymore.

MacDonald announced his retirement from MMA this past weekend following his first-round KO loss to Dilano Taylor in the PFL Playoffs welterweight semifinals. On Wednesday, MacDonald explained that this was a long time coming.

“It’s been on my mind for a while,” MacDonald told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I feel like it’s been quite a few fights, actually, where I’ve questioned it but just wasn’t ready. I felt like I could still have that resurgence in my career. I had a goal that I was driven toward, and I know in the practice room I could do certain things, but I just wasn’t able to do it in the cage when rubber meets the road, so to speak. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between what you can do in the practice room and under those lights. I just don’t have that certain thing, that spirit, that heart to go out there and get it done anymore.

“Every fight, for a while now, it’s been diminishing. I’ve seen it more and more. This season was my last hurrah, to basically — I was all-in. I was going to put everything I absolutely could into this, and if I was successful, I would just keep going with it and go toward my goals, but if I fall short, that will be the end. And this last fight, even if I had put up a better fight and lost, or even if I had won, just the feeling I had in that fight was confirmation to me that this isn’t for me anymore. It’s not who I am anymore. So I’ve got to listen to that. ...

“Just being under those lights and face-to-face with your opponent and not wanting to be there, not wanting to push through that intensity that you meet when you’re in a fight, when someone’s trying to attack you. You feel that, that intensity. Usually you have some sort of resistance to that, mentally, and it’s just not there for me anymore. I don’t have that passion to keep doing this with 100 percent of myself anymore, and I think that’s confirmation to me that I shouldn’t be doing this anymore.”

When asked how long he’s been thinking about stepping away, MacDonald revealed that he first gave it consideration when he faced Gegard Mousasi for the Bellator middleweight belt in 2018.

“It was when I fought Mousasi,” MacDonald said. “That fight I didn’t prepare like I should have prepared. That was the beginning, I think. After the injury I had in the Lima fight and the injuries I had from the second Lawler fight, it really started to play with my head. Being on my couch for three months, not being able to walk after the Lima fight, it just started — I tried to ignore those voices but your body and your flesh kind of cries out to you. I tried to ignore it for as long as I can but subconsciously it’s there. You can only take so much punishment over the years. You have to be willing to go through that and I think I just sort of came to my wit’s end.”

MacDonald noted that this change in mentality coincided with a number of other life changes, particularly in finding Christianity and starting a family, which left him “a little bit mixed up.” However, MacDonald says, he’s glad he continued fighting because had he walked away then, he’s not sure he’d feel the same sense of completion.

“I think I needed to. I needed to get it right out of my system,” MacDonald said. “Now, when I walked out of that cage, obviously I was disappointed with getting knocked out, but I’m very much at peace with it. I know for certain that I don’t want to fight anymore, and if I would have maybe hung it up before, I might have circled back to it and it would have been more of a drawn out process than it is now. I just had to finish whatever it was and get it out of my system, so to speak...

“It’s been a pretty heavy weight on my shoulders, fighting the last little while, so it absolutely is a bit of a relief. I felt like when I actually committed to retiring after this fight, I felt like it was just a weight that fell off of me. My heart just felt lighter... I feel good about my decision. I feel there’s nothing left in the sport that I need to try to do. I really gave it my all, I invested everything I could into this year in my final push and it didn’t work out. I’m happy with what I did. I tried my best and I can leave with a smile on my face knowing that’s what I did.”

Though he’s only 33 years old, MacDonald leaves the sport with an impressive list of accomplishments. He was the Bellator welterweight champion and challenged for the UFC welterweight title against Robbie Lawler at UFC 189, in what would become arguably the greatest fight of all time.

As for what’s next, MacDonald says he will “always be a martial artist” but isn’t sure how involved he will stay with MMA, because he never got involved in MMA for the fame or celebrity.

“As far as career, I think I’m probably going to take a different avenue,” he said. “I’ll always be a martial artist so I’ll always be in the gym training, that’s for sure. But as far as me being involved in mixed martial arts, I don’t know. I don’t know how involved I’ll be. We’ll see how far the road takes me. ...

“I never really got into this for recognition or anything. It’s very touching, all these messages I’m getting, it’s unbelievable. I never would have imagined that in my retirement. But I don’t really have a lot to say. I came in this sport to achieve something personal. It was a very personal thing for me to get involved in this sport and what I’ve done in it. I never really thought of getting any attention from it. It wasn’t a popular thing when I first started, and now that it’s become a major sport and people are paying attention to it, it never really changed for me. I’m not really interested in what people have to say or getting on TV or anything like that. It just wasn’t something I was interested in doing, having a big speech after a fight or getting any recognition. Just move on to the next thing and live life...

“Obviously, it’s scary. Leaving the thing that’s all I’ve ever known. I started this when I was 14 years old, and I started fight professionally at 16, completely sold out to fighting and being world champion at 16. So it’s all I’ve ever known, and now I have a family. So it’s kind of scary transitioning to another career, but I’m excited. It’s a new journey and I’m looking forward to what’s in store.”

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