Rory MacDonald has switched his nickname from "The Waterboy" to "Ares". If you think this sounds corny, I suggest revisiting his trilogy of belly-to-back slams against Nate Diaz; a ghastly compilation of Dad Strength enforced by a youngster barely removed from his teens.
After re-watching him manhandle the immalleable Diaz, you will likely surmise that the new nickname is a befitting symbol of his rapid maturity or that MacDonald has earned the right to call himself whatever he wants.
His only loss was dealt by an enraged Carlos Condit, the former WEC champion who was shifted into beast mode by coach Greg Jackson's impassioned tirade. MacDonald commanded the first two rounds but was pounded out in the third with only a few ticks left on the clock.
MacDonald takes on another former WEC champion at UFC 133 in Mike Pyle, who vacated the promotion's welterweight strap in 2006 for a stint in the IFL. "Quicksand" is a veteran who -- like fellow UFC 133 cast member Brian Ebersole -- is hitting his stride late in his career.
In his MMA debut circa 1999, Pyle dropped a decision to Quinton Jackson, then submitted Jon Fitch in his next outing, which to this day is the only time Fitch has been tapped. Despite holding the rank of BJJ brown belt and not having an extensive history in sport grappling, sixteen of Pyle's twenty-one wins come via submission. I wouldn't hesitate to put him at the black belt level in MMA.
Pyle's time at Xtreme Couture has endowed him with a complete and thorough technical arsenal, which he applies with the composure of an experienced veteran. After the jump, we'll take a look at how the two match up.
Simple fundamentals can be highly effective, and the revivified Mike Pyle is a prime example.
Physically, he's far from the biggest, strongest, or quickest welterweight, but he does a lot of the little things right. Lately, he's methodically cracked away with his stand up: staying on balance, protecting his head by swinging it off-center with his chin tucked, and judiciously selecting where and when to land.
When he handed John Hathaway his first loss, Pyle showed great footwork and defense while constantly flicking his jab out to measure distance, sometimes going to the body with it. He kept his right hand cocked and bored it through Hathaway's guard with good timing and use of angles.
He's not a power puncher, but he lulled the longer-limbed Hathaway into trading in order to set up perfectly executed trips in the clinch.
When he failed on a takedown attempt, instead of leaving himself exposed for counters, he just seamlessly transitioned to dirty boxing, unveiling a short Thai-style elbow and enhanced in-fighting.
Most of Pyle's takedowns against Hathaway were on the cage, but to the right he shows a Jon Jones-ish trip that is triggered by a lightning fast change in momentum.
While Diego Sanchez is not a top-of-the-line wrestler, he's not a weak one either, and he withered in the face of Hathaway's takedown defense. Pyle was exponentially more successful.
The Xtreme Couture product stayed calmly relentless on the ground. From side-control, he stepped over Hathaway's head and sunk in a mounted triangle, then trapped the right arm to combine the hold with a crucifix position. After tying the knot, he wailed away with unhindered punches and elbows to the head.
Chaining his sub attempts with strikes is one of his strongest aspects, as he loves to hurl elbows to the head when he has a triangle locked or drop hammer-fists to break a defensive grip.
Pyle will have his hands full with MacDonald, especially considering how easily the Tristar Gym member has negated other sub specialists.
MacDonald is an obvious product of training MMA as a whole since day one. He doesn't have a single strength he's always trying to impose nor a glaring weakness he needs to protect.
His stand up is simple but sharp: a good jab and straight one-two, nasty hooks from close range, and quickly springing off high kicks and front kicks.
His balance and base seem phenomenal, and even when faced with what seems to be superior striking, MacDonald is always dictating the pace.
This is likely attributed to the way he alternates from crisp countering, to leading the attack with precise combinations, and then mixing in a well timed double leg.
He's a master of taking his opponents completely out of rhythm with this tactic of enforcing his own.
MacDonald envelopes with pressure and seems to be invading from all angles, but his agility and amazing grasp of distance keeps him just out of reach for any returning fire by the time his strikes complete.
His ability to swarm with strikes and then recede out of the pocket is uncanny.
He pulls this routine on Nate Diaz to the upper-left, vaulting into the pocket with accurate and heavy strikes but skating cleverly out of reach to evade the counters.
Rory utilizes the same strategy in the clinch and on the ground.
Against both Condit and Diaz, he nailed takedowns and showered just enough ground-and-pound to score significantly, but never let himself over-commit or penetrate too deeply.
Every time either of the BJJ black belts started to settle in and rev up their malicious guard games, MacDonald, always maintaining good posture, would just eject himself free of their grasp, reset, and start the process over again.
MacDonald emerges a strong favorite on the betting lines, which, after his showcase performance against Diaz, should be the case for him against anyone but the top echelon of the division.
While his overbearing style might be the worst possible match up for Pyle, there's something particularly impressive about the way the Xtreme Couture vet has coolly disassembled his last few adversaries.
At this point, I think MacDonald is surging too strongly to be derailed, but I wouldn't put it past Pyle to either pull off the upset or give the soaring newcomer a run for his money.
My Prediction: Rory MacDonald by decision
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