Who wins the Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson main event at UFC Fight Night 89, and how? Will the winner get the next title fight? Why or why not?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Let’s start with the latter part of this question. The winner gets the next title fight against Robbie Lawler (Yes!) or Tyron Woodley (Nooooooooooo!) That is of course unless:
1. The winner gets hurt.
2. The UFC decides to throw Carlos Condit back into the title fight a fight too late
3. Georges St-Pierre comes back and wants to fight for the belt
4. Conor McGregor beats Nate Diaz and wants to get his ass kicked by a real 170 pounder.
But yes, outside of those things, the winner will get the next title shot. MacDonald was half of one of the greatest fights we’ve ever seen when he and Lawler had an all out war at UFC 189. If it is a Lawler rematch the UFC needs to sell, it’s an easy sell. Stephen Thompson is doing karate in the Octagon, which is just too cool, and he karate’d the crap out of Johny Hendricks in his last fight to announce he’s the real deal. With an ever growing highlight reel, Wonderboy almost seamlessly transitioned from karate and kickboxing to MMA.
This is a tough fight to pick. Rory MacDonald may actually be the best and most talented fighter in the division. Were it not for the fact that Lawler is some sort of otherworldly war monster, he’d be holding the belt right now. He came extremely close to finishing the champ at UFC 189, and entered the fifth round leading on all cards. He’s extremely large for the weight class, and I’m not convinced I’d pick against him were he to fight anyone else in the division.
Which brings us to Thompson. Thompson made Johny Hendricks look like an injury replacement who was called up the week of the fight. This is the same Hendricks who should have been given a victory against GSP (bad judging) and who beat Robbie Lawler once, and should have gotten a second victory against him (bad judging). The Thompson fight wasn’t competitive, and Wonderboy took a KO victory from a guy who had never been KO’d before. Thompson is the hot prospect on the cusp of greatness, which is what MacDonald was until he got his face rearranged by Lawler and Thompson took that designation from him.
MacDonald has big fight experience and has been in wars. Thompson has taken little damage in his career and has shown little weakness. They’re both big, rangy, and athletic. It’s a coin flip for me. I want to pick MacDonald, but I don’t want to pick against Thompson. So with all of that, I’m basing my pick solely on the next fight I want to see, which is Lawler vs. Thompson (Lawler vs. MacDonald 3 is a fine consolation prize that might be better, I just like new things). Thompson by wheel kick knockout in the fourth round, when he gets Rory’s hands to drop after repeated body kicks. Or just regular knockout, I don’t care, I just want to see this fight.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think you got to give the winner the next title shot. There’s no way around it. Thompson just dominated Johny Hendricks and MacDonald is always around the top of the division. I think the winner will have earned the title shot. I think Thompson wins a war. I think he rocks MacDonald a few times, but that Rory is too tough to finish early. I do think that Thompson gets the TKO finish, but not until late in the third round or so. Given their toughness, I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes the distance, but I think the dynamic striking of Thompson propels him to victory in a very exciting main event.
JAMIE PENICK, MMATORCH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
This is a really tough fight to break down. Thompson’s a phenomenal striker, and that win over Johny Hendricks was as eye opening a fight as any fighter could hope to have. Rory MacDonald went through an absolute war with Robbie Lawler in their rematch last summer, and at his best is a strong grappler with very good striking skills of his own. He can bust people up, bully them with takedowns and ground and pound, and generally dictate how most of his fights play out. That war could have taken a lot out of him, though, and we haven’t seen him in nearly a year because of it.
At his best, MacDonald might be the better fighter, but even then Thompson’s kicks are game changers, and if he can hurt MacDonald in the way he did Hendricks he’ll win this fight. If he fails, he hasn’t been in a five round fight just yet, and MacDonald’s got some experience in lengthy, grueling fights. This should be fun, and I edge it ever so slightly to Thompson.
Regardless of who wins, they have to be in serious consideration for the next title fight. Lawler’s likely to get past Tyron Woodley in July, and a third fight between he and MacDonald could be fantastic. If it’s Thompson, there wouldn’t be a more deserving name in the division for that next shot.
[Photo (c) Stephen R. Sylvanie via USA Today Sports]
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