Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press/AP
Sunday, June 15, 2014 | 1 a.m.
Georges St. Pierre’s desire to take a hiatus after UFC 167 last year was the welterweight division’s worst-kept secret.
A close second was St. Pierre’s hope that training partner and protégé Rory MacDonald would succeed him in the throne of the 170-pound weight class. The 24-year-old MacDonald busted those plans with a loss to Robbie Lawler on the same card that produced St. Pierre’s exit.
But now it appears the defeat may have been more delay than damnation. MacDonald bounced back with two straight dominant victories, the latest coming Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC 174 with a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) over Tyron Woodley.
“I’ll be holding that belt very soon,” MacDonald said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
MacDonald solidified his standing as the No. 2-ranked welterweight contender in the Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The problem is the one fighter ahead of him — Lawler.
The UFC promised a title shot against welterweight champion Johny Hendricks to whoever wins an upcoming fight between Lawler and Matt Brown. MacDonald begrudgingly understands.
“It’s not that I don’t want the title shot; I want it to be clear that I want it,” MacDonald said. “But I respect the decision that there are two guys ahead of me that were promised it. But if that fight is a stinker, I’m ready to step in.”
No one believes Lawler vs. Brown will fail to deliver, a point UFC President Dana White animatedly annunciated earlier in the week. Plenty of people were worried about MacDonald vs. Woodley, though, fearing the two would fall into a past pattern of tentativeness.
MacDonald wouldn’t let it happen. Behind chants of “Let’s go Rory” from the crowd of his home province, he came forward and bashed Woodley with strikes from the opening minute en route to a 15-minute drubbing.
Woodley even stopped his march out of the building to applaud MacDonald during his post-fight octagon interview.
“There wasn’t anything unexpected,” Woodley said. “I just let him dictate the pace too early in the fight. I really never got into my rhythm. Rory did a great job tonight.”
MacDonald warned that he felt his training efforts were clicking to allow him to reach the highest level of his career coming into the bout. But fighters use some version of that same tale exhaustively.
MacDonald showed he actually meant it with the way he backed Woodley down in the opening two rounds to establish range while barely ever getting touched.
“I was a little surprised how much it worked, but that was the game plan,” MacDonald said. “In a perfect world, that’s what I wanted to happen. The techniques I used worked great.”
His finest work may have come in the final round. MacDonald pressured Woodley throughout the entire fight but never truly threatened him until the final minutes.
That’s when MacDonald converted on a takedown and landed several consecutive hammerfists as the crowd rose to their feet anticipating a late TKO.
“I didn’t think they were going to stop it,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald can never prevent his honesty from coming through, even when it’s potentially to his detriment.
Previous fighters in his position — at the top of a division but not promised the next title shot — have insisted on waiting for an opportunity against the cage. MacDonald has no interest going that direction.
He expects to line up another opponent around the time Hendricks defends his belt against Lawler or Brown and risk his distinction as the next fighter in line.
“I like to fight, so if I wait a year for a shot if someone gets injured or whatever, maybe they forget about me,” MacDonald said. “I like to fight. I’ll just continue fighting.”
MacDonald used to have to watch his words. His aspirations were always to win the belt, but he was never willing to fight St. Pierre.
With St. Pierre out of the way, MacDonald’s path to the championship is clear — just the way they always planned it.
“It’s a pressure lifted or a distraction that’s gone,” MacDonald said in his customary monotone. “I’m right there at the top.”