Whatever conversation Rory MacDonald has had with the Higher Force in the last few weeks, the Bellator welterweight king has been cleared, categorically, he tells us, to inflict damage with his hands, knees, elbows and feet on rival Douglas Lima tonight. Confirmed. Even blessed to do so, we might dare to say, in a manner of speaking.
As openly, as one trip I recall I once made to Maranello, home of Ferrari, where I witnessed a small wooden copy of the flame red racing car blessed at the altar in the town’s church by a priest there on the Sunday before Formula One race day as the Italian car manufacturers prepared to try and take the championships. They did. We might say God was on their side.
Some things are bigger than just a fight. Or maybe it is all part of ‘the big fight’, existence itself. Without getting to far into the mystic quotes of say, Rumi, at this point, we know that fighting is visceral, raw, and exposes so many things. Yet it has a deepness that necessitates exploration of the inner self at times.
MacDonald has been on that journey. Not just yesterday, or the past few weeks, but since he smashed his first gloves and feet in anger, perhaps not even knowing why.
But now, the mature father and fighter Rory MacD, who has been to the well in the cage so many times and has earned our love and respect, carried the blessing of God to punch and kick Douglas anywhere the rules allow him to do.
The doubts that the Canadian was riddled with and was brutally honest about after his welterweight tournament semi-final against Jon Fitch have gone. Honestly, they have. That’s what he told me as strongly as that 1000 yard stare of his.
So we should all stop doubting that MacDonald’s heart (or spite, or that cold dark ruthlessness) he has had since being a teenager at the highest level in MMA, has departed him. It is very much alive. And we will witness it tonight.
In other words, he has been blessed to fight, retain his title, pick up the million bucks for winning the title, and continue what he calls “his work in the name of God”.
Does that make him a more dangerous man and fighter than the version of himself that eked out the decision from the trenches of the fifth round at The Forum, Inglewood, twenty-one months ago ?
Maybe it does, even though most pundits and fighters – including a rival of the two men, Paul Daley, who fights Sabah Homasi on this card about 90 minutes before they walk to the cage – view Lima as a strong favourite.
Who knows ? Perhaps MacDonald actually has Lima’s number ? But in between the lines, in the fine print, that is what makes this a mouthwatering trial of mental fortitude and physical strength. Two men, deeply committed with very different yet equally compelling reasons to win.
His heart is still in it, pointed out MacDonald to me in a revelatory chat, as he prepares to main event against Lima tonight at Bellator 232 at the Mohegan Sun Resort, Connecticut.
“I’m planning on signing my new contract after this fight. My time in MMA is not over anytime soon,” was his first assertion. Thump.
The post-Fitch fight speech, after he had wriggled and jabbed his way to victory, albeit with what seemed like the handbrake on, he has no regrets over, yet which he admits had him “very confused”. Thump again.
“What I did what I said that night, I think is something that’ll work in my favour. I was trying to be honest with myself and everyone there. A lot of changes have happened in my life in the last three years,” MacDonald told The Daily Telegraph.
“In being a born again Christian and a father and a husband, and all the changes that go along with that, how that goes into my fight life, which I’ve done my whole life, and how to apply those changes to it. I have my Lord and my purpose.”
“During that period [when he fought Fitch] I was very confused. Did I need fighting and all the violence that came with it ? I feel a calling in my life. Since then I’ve got a lot of clarity from the Lord about what I should be doing, how to balance my life as a fighter and a Christian.”
We have to admire the duality of such an existence, seemingly from the outside a dichotomy.
One of the fascinating things about MacDonald is how marriage and fatherhood have changed him, made him more open, clearly, and perhaps learning about himself in the sense of what he might want, and have wanted growing up.
I asked him, a man who clearly dotes on his two young children, whether he got enough love in childhood. “I desired more,” he offered. There is so much there in just those three words…
“I think every parent has this in them; they want to provide better. They want to learn from what they felt was missing from their childhood. I want to be the best father I can possibly be. I want to be a good father like my Father In heaven.
“I want to learn from him and his words in the bible on how to be a good father and husband. There’s no better guidance than that. It’s a walk every day. It’s a learning process. It’s just the best. It fulfilled a big place in my heart.”
“Being a father is the best. I’ve always wanted to be a father. God really answered my prayers. He’s given me a beautiful daughter and son. They’re a joy to my life and they’re healthy. I’ve got a beautiful wife who helps me in every way. I’m really living a blessed life. All thanks to God. It wouldn’t be possible without his intervention and him making a way for me. I’m very thankful.”
So, yes, watch out Douglas, because Rory is off the leash again, a happy man, and even happier to fight.
He looked back on that Fitch fight. “In a fight everything is going a mile a minute. You see a lot in that fight that was going on with me … I would let him wrestle me into the cage. If he took me down I would sit there and protect myself. ”
“Usually I’d be fighting tooth and nail to get a better position or finish him. I took more time in that fight to be in the zone. Was I in this for the right reasons, I had a lot of things in my head. Luckily it wasn’t a super dangerous fight for me, I was just fighting off a grappler who wanted to hold me there. It all worked out. I learned from it.”
But there was no downside from his openness. “I don’t have any regrets. It helped me realise what I needed to do as a fighter and as a Christian. It was something that was building behind the scenes in my life. I was always contemplating. Recently the Lord has shown a light on what’s next. I believe as I walk, it’s what he’s showing me in this first step. I believe it’ll keep going this way. The Lord is taking me on a journey. It’ll lead me to a great thing.”
Bottom line, though, prayers and training notwithstanding, there is a huge welterweight coming for him, looking for vengeance after a razor tight loss in the first encounter, a meeting Lima still kicks himself about for letting the ‘W’ get away.
“There’s a lot riding on this one. It means a lot to me,” explained MacDonald with a cold, unfeeling menace. “But I plan going out there and showing a dominant performance. I trained really specific for this fight. I plan to put the hammer down, let people know who I am and make a statement. It’ll be a good night.”
“I don’t believe it’ll be that same fight again. I believe I’ll be a lot more dominant in this fight. But if it goes that way, it’ll go that way. I have that in me.” The first fight was a thriller. The anticipation for the second coming of these two fighters locking horns is simply immense. Ring the bell, and may the best man win.