Can Rory MacDonald Really Be Better Than Georges St-Pierre?

heavy-ufc-133-6_3How good can Rory MacDonald be?

Everyone has been wondering how good Rory MacDonald can be since his UFC debut at age 20.

Sporting an unbeaten 9-0 record at the time, MacDonald made quick work of Mike “Joker” Guymon and quickly became one of the best prospects in the organization. He followed it up with two tremendous rounds against Carlos Condit at UFC 115 before being finished late in the third.

Back in April, MacDonald rebounded from his first career defeat in resounding fashion, flinging Nate Diaz around the cage in the final round of their meeting at UFC 129. Saturday night, he took another step up in competition, facing surging veteran Mike Pyle, a fighter who halted the progress of prospect John Hathaway 10 months earlier.

MacDonald made it look easy.

Now going by the nickname “Ares” — the Greek god of war — the 22-year-old was a destructive force, wading into Pyle’s guard and finishing him under a wave of heavy punches just before the four minute mark of the opening round. It was a thoroughly dominant performance, one that prompted UFC commentator Joe Rogan to opine that MacDonald has greater potential than one of the greatest fighters in the sport today.

Asked how good MacDonald could become by his broadcast partner Mike Goldberg, Rogan responded that the young Canadian has the opportunity to be even better than Georges St-Pierre, the current UFC welterweight champion and a training partner of MacDonald’s at the TriStar Gym in Montreal.

This is not typical post-fight hyperbole; this is Rogan’s honest assessment, and one I share. Though the thought of someone exceeding the standard of excellence established by St-Pierre over the last four years might be unthinkable to some, the fact is his countryman is capable of doing just that in the future.

MacDonald stands at the forefront of the new breed of fighters starting to climb the ranks; fighters who have trained MMA in its entirety from Day One. Having worked on all elements of the sport since the first day he walked through the doors at Toshido Martial Arts in Kelowna, MacDonald possesses an extremely well-rounded repertoire. While there is always room to improve, there are no glaring weaknesses or holes in his game that need to be fixed.

Now that he’s working with the same team of coaches that have helped transform St-Pierre into one of the most dominant forces in the sport, MacDonald could very well exceed the level of success his teammate has achieved. They’ve got a four-year head start from where they began with GSP, and MacDonald is more well-rounded at this point than St-Pierre was when he began working extensively with Firas Zahabi and company.

Personally, I think MacDonald has been every bit as impressive through his first four fights in the UFC as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones — if not better — and he’s faced tougher competition. Four fights in and he’s already beaten a top 20 welterweight emphatically. And like Jones, he keeps improving each time we see him.

This kind of heady praise and lofty comparison could put undue pressure on a young fighter, setting an unattainable standard that ultimately becomes their downfall. Sometimes fighters do it to themselves (see Vera, Brandon), while other times the blame falls on the shoulders of the media. Rogan’s jumped the gun in the past before too; lest we forget he was the one who proclaimed the dawn of “The Machida Era.”

It’s different with MacDonald. I know that sounds naive, but trust me. Better yet, talk to him and see for yourself.

He’s level-headed and self-confident, never fully satisfied with his performance, even Saturday night’s dominant display. He’s thankful and flattered by the St-Pierre comparisons, but dead set on being no one other than himself, a point he made numerous times last week and reiterated again following his win.

As far as the pressure of living up to such high expectations, they’re merely on par with the goals MacDonald has already established for himself.

Even before he stepped into the Octagon for the first time, MacDonald had designs on being a multi-divisional champion. While others have made those same claims (see Vera, Brandon), MacDonald says the way others say they have to go pick up milk. He’s not boasting or trying to pump himself up; he’s just telling you what he has to do in the future.

His focus and dedication is what separates MacDonald from the field and stands as another of the reasons I believe he’ll surpass St-Pierre’s achievements at some point.

When I was 16, I was coasting through high school with no real direction. MacDonald was living on his own in Kelowna, staying behind to train and finish high school when his family moved away. He had already began fighting professionally too. You really can’t teach that kind of commitment; you either have it or you don’t, and MacDonald has it in spades.

All the elements are there for MacDonald to be something special. He’s physically gifted, willing to work and learn and be coached, and mature and focused beyond his 22 years.

Surpassing the achievements of his teammate is a tall order. Hopefully this will help you be less surprised when he does it.