The Iceman Cometh From the North: Rory MacDonald Kicks Down the Door to a UFC Title Shot
Since the unceremonious career hiatus taken last year by UFC superstar and Hollywood bad-boy Georges St. Pierre (GSP), Canadian MMA has, in general, been suffering from an identity crisis. With a disappointing decline in great fights, fan enthusiasm, and Canadian starpower, the Canadian fight scene has felt like it was teetering on the brink of insignificance. That, however, was before iceman Rory MacDonald climbed into the ring last Saturday night.
Canadian MMA has been in desperate need of a star to brag about, a fighter to fight for, and a renewed era of fan enthusiasm since St.Pierre’s departure and with one killer right-cross, left uppercut combination, Rory MacDonald gave Tarec Saffiedine a well-deserved face-down visit to the canvas that silenced the former Strikeforce champion and his weeks-long trash-talking campaign and has given the withering body of Canadian MMA a big shot in the arm.
Rory’s extraordinary performance Saturday night began with the absolute coldest walkout and stare-down I have seen in the Octagon in years. It was his unflinching, intense, and emotionless stare that set the tone for his dominant win. Not only did MacDonald not take his eyes off of Saffiedine or even blink during the introduction, but it looked like he was in a sort of lifeless, zombie kill-trance that burned holes in Saffiedine’s own prefight stare-down. Saffiedine became visibly locked on MacDonald’s cold glare, appearing taken aback by his proto-human stare. The look was something right out of a movie: you often see bravado and gangster-glaring by fighters posturing before a fight, but—damn—MacDonald didn’t move a muscle as an animated, leaping, and growling Bruce Buffer electrified the Halifax crows. It was Rory’s trance-like focus that signaled his intent to—not celebrate or bask in hometown highs, the lights, or the glamour of the moment—dominate the ring. I wasn’t even in the same province, and I couldn’t help but get chills from MacDonald’s stony grill!
MacDonald currently boasts the best takedown defense of all UFC welterweights and, having won seven of his last eight fights with an equal mix of knockouts and submissions, he has silenced anyone who thought that all he had was a jab and a friendship with GSP to carry him to the top: he has proven himself as one tough contender. MacDonald fights with no ‘game plans’ and, instead, prefers to enter the ring and force his own presence and rhythm on opponents to dominate and ultimately break them. His dogged daily work ethic has instilled him with the confidence to go the distance; to win anywhere, whether on the ground or standing up, and against any fighter based solely on the patterns of his opponent and a ruthless exploitation of their weaknesses.
Though some criticize his habit of sitting back and safely counter-striking, there really are no holes in MacDonald’s game: he holds a black belt in jiu jitsu, some fierce ground and pound, and, what is perhaps, the best jab in the UFC. He also brings a masterful ability to establish and the fight at his distance, to strike unexpectedly and with speed, and to generate menacing combinations and takedowns. Leading up to the fight, MacDonald’s critics have raised a few questions about the championship abilities of this young fighter, particularly since, before Saturday night, his last finish came more than 2 years ago against Che Mills in April 2012. After it though, it’s safe to say that MacDonald brought the questioning and doubt to a crashing halt by finishing dangerous and never-finished top-ten brawler, Saffiedine. The consistently calm and confident Rory MacDonald needed to make a statement Saturday and, make a statement, he did.
MacDonald began Round 1 with an intense and unrelenting stalking pursuit of Saffiedine and a few stinging leg kicks of his own as if to say, anything Saffiedine can do, he can do better. He also established the pace and position throughout the round, never giving Saffiedine a chance to establish his own rhythm, or find a place or time for the lethal leg strikes he is so well known for.
Saffiedine switched stances often in Round 1 and was punished with sharp counters. Right away, MacDonald established great defense, blocking many of Saffiedine’s southpaw jab attempts with his long left paw and, although MacDonald showed great distance and timing with the jab and straight right, Round 1 saw Saffiedine get in on MacDonald several times with stinging leg kicks, threatening to dismantle Rory’s heavy front foot foundation for his jab.
Great overall octagon control for MacDonald had Saffiedine backing up the whole round with Rory stalking hard. A caught-kick takedown by Macdonald showed some important ground aggression early on. Although he was able to get back to his feet quickly, this kick-counter-takedown seemed to put a chill on Saffiedine’s leg kick attempts for the duration of the round. At the end of Round 1, the iceman’s unflinching stare-down followed Tarec all the way to his corner. Rory’s mental game, constant pursuit, and menacing combinations seem to have seriously hampered Saffiedine’s aggression. Saffiedine looked frustrated and uncharacteristically immobile by the end of the round, putting Round 1 clearly in the books for MacDonald.
Round 2 started with a great combination by MacDonald in the center of ring and continued with Rory controlling distance well, dominating the reach-game, and making it hard for Saffiedine to get in. And with the lead left hand-check by MacDonald, Saffiedine’s jabs were all but smothered for the first half of Round 2. Speed also played a recurring role in MacDonald’s favour leading to a series of missed strikes and whiffs by Saffiedine against Rory’s evasive defense. MacDonald was too fast for Tarec to establish a regular touch of MacDonald’s chin or body, or to slow the pace enough to set up his often lethal leg kicks. The caliber of Saffiedine’s past opponents seemed to prepare him little for the speed he was facing by the higher-ranked MacDonald.
Rory was lighter on the lead leg in the second round and was successful at checking several of Saffiedine’s kicks early on in the frame, but Saffiedine landed a few sharp leg kicks with painful results in the later part of Round 2.
Overall, it was a better round for Saffiedine than Round 1 in the strikes-landed department, yet he was unable to stop or slow the relentless stalking pursuit of MacDonald and, with a hard overhand right and kick grazing the face of Saffiedine at the 4:18 point, MacDonald proved successful time and again at keeping the fight at his—and just out of Saffiedine’s—range for striking. By the bell ending Round 2, Saffiedine’s face was starting to show real wear and tear and a growing frustration at the relentless, out-of-range attack being inflicted by MacDonald.
Down 2 rounds, Saffiedine came out like a savage, landing a fierce string of leg kicks and punches against MacDonald to start Round 3, but with Rory pushing a calculated and menacing pace and rhythm the whole fight, Saffiedine was never given the chance to put MacDonald in any trouble, push him back, or push him off his forward-dominant game of aggression. Then, as the fighters both stood toe-to-toe and planted for what might have been a jaw-rattling exchange, the Canadian phenom landed an amazing overhand right followed by a crushing left uppercut, sending Saffiedine to the canvas. To cap off a dominant night of precision assault and chilling mental toughness, MacDonald unleashed some fight-stopping ground-and-pound to deliver, for the first time in Saffiedine’s MMA career, his first loss due to stoppage.
Rory MacDonald treated lucky fans to a dramatic and championship-calibre performance: the seriousness, superior technique, and killer instinct that Macdonald displayed were striking and indomitable. Rory doesn’t have much to say; he doesn’t have games to play or plans to make before fights. Instead, he wins by coldly and methodically studying, neutralizing, and breaking all opponents in the ring. Without a ripple in his confidence, he says he is ready to collect the welterweight title and return the belt to its rightful place, around the waist of a Canadian combat king. The ‘psycho killer’ Rory MacDonald, is back. The iceman from the north has definitely—this time without argument—arrived. And he seems ready to plunder the UFC gold and to dominate a new era in cold, Canadian, savagery in the octagon, atop the very best of the UFC’s scariest welterweights. The chilling presence of MacDonald’s expressionless technical attack on Saffiedine Saturday made him worthy of his old nickname, The Canadian Psycho, and put the UFC management, Hendrix and Lawlor, on notice: there’s an ice-cold killer coming.