Rory MacDonald is going to get his chance to fight for the UFC welterweight title after all.
UFC President Dana White announced on Wednesday that the Kelowna, British Columbia native and Tristar Gym representative would face current champion Robbie Lawler for the belt at UFC 189 on July 11 in Las Vegas. The welterweight title fight will serve as the co-main event of the pay-per-view show with a featherweight championship fight between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor closing out the night.
MacDonald was tabbed as the next to challenge for the belt following his October victory over Tarec Saffiedine in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but as is often the case with promised opportunities in the UFC, the situation changed.
At UFC 181 in December, Lawler won the title from Johny Hendricks in a rematch of their epic championship battle from earlier in the year, prompting White to ponder an immediate third fight between the two. The public balked at the idea and the new champion said he’d like some time have given that he competed four times in 2014 and five times in a 13-month stretch.
The UFC granted the new champion’s request and went about the business of booking his potential opponents into other fights. Hendricks was paired off with Matt Brown in what should be a terrific slugfest at UFC 185 next month in Dallas and MacDonald was matched up with former Cuban Olympic judoka Hector Lombard in the co-main event of UFC 184, the organization’s return to Montreal in April.
It was a fight that made perfect sense – both MacDonald and Lombard needed opponents and a win for either man would establish them as the No. 1 contender in the division, plus MacDonald now lives and trains in Montreal, so it was a hometown fight of sorts for the 25-year-old Canadian.
But that fight fell apart last week when it was announced that Lombard failed his post-fight drug test at UFC 182. Tuesday, he was handed a temporary suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, with a nine-month stay on the sidelines likely to be doled out next month. That left MacDonald without a dance partner, but that all changed on Wednesday.
The UFC 189 welterweight championship fight between Lawler and MacDonald is actually a rematch – the two met at UFC 167 in November 2013 with Lawler earning a split decision victory. The veteran was the more active of the two and controlled the fight early before the Canadian came on strong in the second half of the fight, only to come up short on the scorecards.
Since then, MacDonald has gone on to post three consecutive victories over Demian Maia (UFC 170), Tyron Woodley (UFC 174) and Saffiedine (UFC Fight Night 54), with each subsequent performance being better than the last.
The focused and reserved fighter has been considered a “future champion” since rising through the regional ranks and reaching the UFC with a perfect 9-0 record as a 20-year-old. After winning his debut, MacDonald dropped his sophomore effort to future interim champion Carlos Condit at UFC 115 in Vancouver in what was a breakout performance.
Unfairly labeled “The Next Georges St-Pierre” due to their shared nationality and the fact that they train together under Firas Zahabi at Tristar, MacDonald is actually a very different fighter than the former welterweight champion, possessing a more powerful and diverse offensive arsenal than St-Pierre. He’s maintained all along that he wants to be his own man and not the second coming of the popular French-Canadian fighter and over the last year, MacDonald has stepped out from St-Pierre’s shadow and established himself as a dominant fighter and legitimate title threat.
And now he gets the chance to become UFC welterweight champion.