THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: In-depth look at Rory MacDonald’s big jump from UFC to Bellator

By D.R. Webster, MMATorch contributor

Rory MacDonald (photo credit Joe Camporeale © USA Today Sports)

In this week’s edition of the Sunday Supplement, MMA’s free agency takes the spotlight as Rory MacDonald makes the jump to Bellator from the UFC. What does the future hold?

Rory MacDonald Signs With Bellator

This week saw top three UFC Welterweight contender Rory MacDonald make the jump from the UFC to sign with Bellator.

This signing ranks up there as one of the biggest free agency moves in MMA, following in the footsteps of the likes of Rampage Jackson, Benson Henderson, Matt Mitrione, Josh Thomson, and Josh Koscheck.

After the UFC/Reebok partnership was made, Bellator gained the upper hand when it came to offering attractive deals to fighters at all levels, giving them the opportunity to make more money than they would now with the UFC thanks to Bellator still allowing sponsorships and also offering perhaps more opportunities to make a splash than they would receive in the current UFC climate. This especially applies to fighters who have already made a name for themselves in UFC.

Bellator is still evolving as a brand. Fighters have the opportunity to get in and become a star while the company is still ascending, unlike the UFC which has a storied history and massive names associated with their brand already.

This is something that Rory MacDonald commented on during his introductory press conference, calling the UFC “boring” and complimenting Bellator’s stance on individuality for fighters and overall entertainment and productions of the shows, unlike the UFC. He singled out the Reebok deal in particular, as well as Bellator’s commitment to promoting him as a top star and not just another cog in the machine.

The UFC’s sale for $4 billion and his brutal fight against Robbie Lawler also played into this decision to make the jump to Bellator also.

MacDonald only made $59,000 for his brutal bloody title fight with Lawler and, according to MacDonald, it changed his way of thinking about MMA. Before he was just a fighter; now he is a businessman as well, looking to be compensated fairly for what he leaves behind in the cage.

MacDonald moves over to Bellator while in his prime which makes this move such a big one and a loss for the UFC. You could argue that most of Bellator’s free agent signings thus far have been fighters on the back end of their career or, at best, slightly past their prime. However, MacDonald was a top contender in a stacked UFC Welterweight division.

MacDonald has also had some memorable fights in the UFC, particularly the already mentioned UFC Welterweight Title bout against Robbie Lawler. In that brutal five round war, his nose was destroyed, causing him to receive a six-month medical suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission. He didn’t return to the Octagon until nearly a year later where he lost to Stephen Thompson via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa. He later said that he had entered that bout with his nose still broken.

This injury could pose a problem for MacDonald moving forward in his fighting career. If it heals and he can move past it, he could make a big splash in Bellator and bring memorable fights to the brand.

Already MacDonald has his sights set on gold, expecting a Welterweight Title shot in his Bellator debut, a title currently held by Andrey Koreshkov, who just beat a man who moved from UFC to Bellator also – Benson Henderson.

Beyond that, MacDonald has his sights set on division dominance, looking to conquer both the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions as a double champion, something which he may never have had the opportunity to do in the UFC, where two-division fights are something usually reserved for the major stars in super fights (Conor McGregor, George St. Pierre, B.J. Penn)

However, MacDonald is a bit off his Bellator debut. During a press conference following Bellator 160 on Friday night, he said that he likely won’t fight until the summer of 2017 in order to let his nose heal from the damage taken in his two previous bouts.

This is a good idea for the longevity of his career. However, the rust of having over a year off may affect his debut, which will either be for the Welterweight Title against Andrey Koreshkov or Bellator’s MVP, Michael “Venom” Page, both fighters in their prime and on a big roll at the moment. Koreshkov is on a six fight win streak, with only one loss in his career back in 2013 and MVP with no career losses at 11-0.

Both fights will be a challenge without adding a year off from fighting to the mix as well as coming off two back to back losses. It will be very interesting to see how MacDonald does in Bellator, especially after Benson Henderson has failed to make a splash since his move from the UFC. If he can manage to live up to his potential, MacDonald could be the centerpiece of a growing Bellator Welterweight division and a standout star of the brand, which would be good news for Bellator’s future in Canada in particular, with the company hoping for MacDonald to follow in the footsteps, if even in a fraction, of teammate and fellow countryman Georges St Pierre as a draw in his home country.

Bellator’s President Scott Coker is already planning for MacDonald’s Bellator debut to be in Canada. “We’re gonna take Bellator into Canada and we’re gonna do it big,” he said. “We’re gonna reinvigorate that market. Those fans are gonna get a proper fight show again.”

The future looks bright for both Bellator and Rory MacDonald after this deal.

Aside from the questions about what MacDonald will do in Bellator, perhaps an even bigger question is who will follow him next and make the jump from the UFC to Bellator. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of MMA as Bellator grows bigger as a competitor to the UFC. How many more big names will we see make the move to Bellator?

The UFC managed to keep Donald Cerrone this week. However, Cerrone is a special case due to him being allowed other sponsorships like Monster Energy, giving him more income than the average UFC fighter and putting him in the upper tier of the fighter’s hierarchy in the UFC. Most fighters are not in this position in the UFC and with more deals coming up for renewal, the free agency will continue to heat up and possibly change the game depending on who Bellator can tempt to their side.

(D.R. Webster writes “The Sunday Supplement” for MMATorch each week. He has written for Daily Record Sport, WrestleTalk TV, Sports Kings, and a variety of other combat sports sites and publications, includinv review shows and DVDs, news reporting, columns, and fantasy articles.)

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