Rory MacDonald, one of the top prospects in MMA, returns after an 8-month absence to meet UK slugger Che Mills in the co-main event of Saturday's UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans pay-per-view card. The show's main attraction is the skyrocketing Jon Jones defending the 205-pound strap against the former champion Rashad Evans.
It's difficult to refute the hype surrounding Canadian phenom Rory "Ares" MacDonald (12-1). He began his MMA career at the ripe age of 16 and submitted his first 4 opponents in the 1st round, one of which was Strikeforce talent Jordan Mein. He changed gears and implemented his striking prowess for the next 3, finishing each by TKO and picking up both the Canadian and world King of the Cage lightweight championships in the process. After another pair of convincing stoppages -- a submission and a TKO -- MacDonald was elevated to the big show.
He first debuted in the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 20 with a flawless 9-0 record and hit a 1st-round armbar on Mike Guymon. Then, in his only display of vulnerability to date, MacDonald drew current UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit and coolly handled the viperous veteran for the first 10 minutes. Down both rounds and in desperate need of a finish, the normally calm and soothing Greg Jackson broke character and launched into a red-faced motivational tirade to light a fire under Condit's ass. It worked. "The Natural Born Killer" laid out the perfect blueprint for a fighter behind on the cards, threw caution to the wind and managed a TKO stoppage with just 7-ticks left on the clock.
While many were outraged at the timing and nature of the stoppage, complaining that the referee robbed him of a guaranteed decision win, MacDonald was all class in his post-fight speech. He didn't blame the ref, gave respect to Condit and took his first career loss like a man. MacDonald would then set up shop with the renowned TriStar Gym alongside Georges St. Pierre with encouraging results. He would rag-doll the ever-game Nate Diaz in a dominant decision and tidy up veteran Mike Pyle by 1st-round TKO in his latest sequence.
Che Mills (14-4) is an English terror approaching his 10th year in the fight game. After a mediocre 1-2 start to his career, Mills went on a 9-fight tear with 8 wins (and 1 No Contest to the UFC's Paul Taylor) and 7 stoppages in the 1st round, a pair of which were over eventual DREAM welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis. His opportunity in the Octagon initially arose on the "US vs. UK" version of TUF, but Mills was quickly entangled in a heel hook from eventual winner James Wilks in the elimination round. Later, on the heels of back-to-back losses (Jim Wallhead, Yuya Shirai), Mills mounted a 4-piece surge (that included UFCer Jake Hecht) to earn his shot, proving his worth with a devastating, 40-second shellacking of Chris Cope at UFC 138.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
The Match Up
Both MacDonald and Mills are well-rounded scrappers with no gaping holes, though MacDonald will have a significant edge in wrestling and Mills has the more polished stand up.
Mills gets strong marks across the board but his striking stands out as his best weapon. He's an aggressive kickboxer with accurate punching combinations and brutal knees. He shows veteran savvy in his pace, composure and selection of strikes. Mills can pressure with meaningful flurries -- at the right time and in the right spots -- without becoming overly reckless and exposed to counters or takedowns. Mills has 8 wins via strikes and 3 by traditional submission. He's capable on the floor and has a solid guard, good grasp of position and capable scrambling abilities -- though his submission defense is suspect (3 of 4 losses via sub).
While Mills might have the better technique on the feet, MacDonald has been brilliant in phase-shifting between striking and wrestling. There is no better example than the Condit fight: MacDonald's in-and-out movement and angles were on point, he unrolled long, straight kicks from the fringe and blasted tight boxing combinations in close and cleverly mixed in explosive double-leg takedowns. Rather than dive into Condit's BJJ-black-belt level guard, he would hammer down a few memorable strikes, disengage and repeat the cycle.
The end result of this ploy is MacDonald hopping into the driver's seat and owning the fight's momentum from start to finish. We often hear praise being heaped on the next generation of fighter who comes up training MMA as a whole as a foundation, as MacDonald did, but "Ares" also excels in the subtle details. His footwork, defense, head movement, posture on the ground, fight I.Q. and submission defense are all rock-solid; not incredible, but very sound.
Along with Mark Hominick, MacDonald is the biggest favorite on the betting lines at -600. Mills is a motivated and dangerous welterweight, yet this matchmaking seems like an unusual step down in competition for MacDonald, who many have pegged as a future champion. It's hard to work up a sensible case for Mills, whose best wins are Cope, Hecht and Zaromskis, when MacDonald has blitzed through the likes of Pyle and Diaz while being literally seconds away from defeating Condit.
My Prediction: Rory MacDonald by submission.