When Rory MacDonald received word he'd be facing British striker Che Mills at UFC 145, what did he do?
Did he react with joy that he'd be the co-main event under one of the biggest headlining fights of the year? Maybe he immediately begin gameplanning for Mills' strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps he was glad to be back in action after being sidelined before UFC 140 with a knee injury.
It turns out he did none of those things.
"I looked him up on the Internet to see what he looked like," MacDonald confessed. And he probably isn't alone.
By most accounts, the Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills bout as a co-main event for UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans is a curious bit of matchmaking. It's true Mills is coming off a devastating stoppage of Chris Cope at UFC 138 and even earned Knockout of the Night honors for the crushing win.
It's also true, however, MacDonald enters this bout having won his last two fights in a row against much more marquee names in the welterweight division: a decision win over Nate Diaz (now a lightweight) at UFC 129 and a first-round TKO stoppage of Mike Pyle at UFC 133. It would seem if anyone were ready and deserving of a jump in ranked competition, it'd be MacDonald.
And maybe he is. Maybe MacDonald knows he was supposed to be getting more out of his next fight. But he also knows in the UFC, big wins can get you big opportunities. Mills had a sensational win in his last bout and MacDonald will be the first to tell you as much.
"He had a good performance in his last fight, so I think UFC is very performance based," MacDonald told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "Joe Silva thought it was a good match-up."
The Montreal-resident believes letting his mind wander to what could or should be instead of what is can also be a recipe for disaster at this level of the game. "If a fighter's in the UFC, I have all the respect in the world for them," MacDonald argued. "You can't take anyone lightly in this sport."
"I didn't see his fight in UFC," he continued. "I told a lot of people this. I don't really do research and watch video on the guys I fight. I kind of leave that to my coaches and just focus on my own training. But I did see a little bit. He's obviously a very talented striker and a good mixed martial artist."
The bout with Mills may be odd to some, but getting an opponent who is appropriate in the UFC is often a function of availability. MacDonald was originally scheduled to face Brian Ebersole at UFC 140, but was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. More importantly, MacDonald took the time he needed to heal properly and avoid surgery. That meant a layoff longer than he would've liked.
"I basically had this issue with my hip and my quad at first during sprinting," the Tri-Star Gym welterweight said. "It moved down into my knee and the back of my leg and then my meniscus. It was like a whole string of things. The whole chain kind of went."
"I tried to heal it, but I wouldn't have had any time to train for the fight. Luckily I avoided surgery because I took care of it. I figured it was the best thing. Just take a little bit of time to myself to heal it properly, avoid surgery. Because I had to have surgery on my other knee the year before and I didn't really want to go through that again."
MacDonald admits to feeling like the made the right decision about his health, but is somewhat glum about where the upcoming fight with Mills will take place.
UFC 145 was originally scheduled to be held at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March 24. But the UFC was never able to secure a suitable main event for the premium market, so the card was pushed back to late April and moved to Atlanta, Georgia.
"It was a bit disappointing not being able to fight in Montreal. I wanted to show the fans here who I was," MacDonald admitted. "I really have no problem traveling to Atlanta or anything like that, but it would've been nice to stay in Canada."
Despite the changes and oddities of it all, MacDonald is taking the UFC 145 process in stride. He's in the co-main event for the time in his career - "I've never been a co-main event, so I'm excited for that" - and ultimately doesn't view it as his personal responsibility to determine who he fights. He's got other priorities to worry about.
"I don't really get disappointed because my job is to look good and to fight good, put on a good show. This sport is so performance based and it's meant for entertainment," MacDonald observed. "It's my management and my coaches', and the UFC's job to pick who I fight. I don't worry about that part of it. All I worry about is training hard, getting better, and fighting at my best."
MacDonald will have to defeat Mills at UFC 145 to get where he wants to go and be where he feels he rightfully belongs. Even then, he'll have to see what the UFC has in store for him. Nothing is ever certain in this sport and now more than ever MacDonald knows it. But sooner or later, the 22-year old rising MMA star believes no matter who he fights or where the bout takes place, he'll be on everyone's radar. MacDonald is determined to leave an impression.
"I feel like I'm the best in the world," MacDonald said without hesitation. "You're going to have no choice but to rank me at the top very soon."