Rory MacDonald is a special talent. At 22 years of age, he has already compiled a 12-1 record, including a 3-1 mark inside the UFC. Next to Jon Jones, he's the brightest young star on the Zuffa payroll, and the UFC should do a better job of making his fights must-see television.
But I want the UFC to take things slow with MacDonald. First, here's Rory speaking to ESPN UK about future opponents:
"I'll fight anyone," MacDonald told the ESPN UFC Podcast. "A lot of people don't want to fight Jon Fitch, but I'll gladly fight him, anybody.
"I'd really like to rematch Carlos Condit though. [I'd take that fight] 100 per cent."
"I feel like I can beat anyone, that's my confidence," MacDonald said. "But I know I'm a young guy, I know I have to stay grounded and improve. There's still so much to learn, I'm still very young, I still have so much time to evolve."
I have no doubts that MacDonald has the skills and ability to beat Carlos Condit. Anyone who watched their first fight at UFC 115 can see that. (Hell, I picked him to win in the staff predictions.)
It was a matchmaking mistake, though (and one of the few made by Joe Silva, in my opinion). MacDonald entered the fight perfect in 10 bouts, but his most significant competition had come in his UFC debut against...Mike Guymon.
It put MacDonald in a very tricky situation. Beating Condit would have put him "in the mix." Maybe he gets the UFC 120 fight with Dan Hardy, a fight he almost certainly wins. Now he's 12-0, looking at a Fitch or a Koscheck or a Penn, and probably only a win or two away from a title shot he most certainly loses.
And, of course, he lost, and sort of faded back into obscurity for awhile.
Jon Jones was 12-1 when he fought Mauricio Rua for the light heavyweight title, but seven of those fights came in the UFC. The progression made sense, too: Gusmao, Bonnar, O'Brien, Hamill, Vera, Matyushenko, Bader. In a perfect world, I give him a couple more fights before a shot at the title. Circumstances as they were, plus the relative shallowness of the division in comparison to welterweight, and it's not a "bad" decision.
The UFC can, and should, take things slower with MacDonald. It took Jones seven UFC fights to get a title fight. It took Jon Fitch eight. Machida had eight. Rashad Evans had nine.
With those numbers in mind, the UFC should plan for another four to six fights for MacDonald to put him in line for a title shot. Give him Brian Ebersole or the winner of Dan Hardy/Chris Lytle for his next fight. Target one of the fringe top 10 guys like Diego Sanchez or Martin Kampmann for the third fight. Then you're in territory for the Condit rematch (depending how he fares) or Nick Diaz or Josh Koscheck. If you really want to season him up, you make him fight more than one of that tier before Jon Fitch or Jake Shields (or whoever is in their spot two years from now).
If he fulfills his potential, MacDonald is in the neighborhood of a 17- or 18-1 record, and eight or nine victories in the UFC at the end of that run. He'll be 25, should he get through this fights within 2 years. Guess who else was 25 when he won his first world title? Georges St. Pierre.