When we last left our heroes...Rory Mac has been the symbol of what Rogan and Goldberg call the "new breed"; the mixed martial artist as he exists nowadays, and artfully distanced from the era of Bill Wallace.
With a stellar 15-2 record, you can understand why. However, his reputation as the fighter to take up the torch passed down by Georges St-Pierre took a hit in 2013. With GSP gone, there is no friendship to prevent him from fighting for the UFC Welterweight title. This weekend he'll have the ADCC 2007 Submission Wrestling World Champion trying to prevent him from fighting for the title.
Demian Maia didn't set the world ablaze in his last performance. With a 18-5 record, his career is hardly in jeopardy, but it's a necessary win for a fighter of Maia's caliber.
This fight could easily headline its own card (I didn't say PPV, haters). I would never argue these two men are in danger of being labeled "inconsistent" with a loss, but the bout is an excellent gauge with respect to where they're headed.
What both men can do: The problem many grapplers in the sport have is one of barriers...if you want to submit a fighter, you have to put them on their back. Unless you're Rumina Sato. But for the most part, wrestling is put at a premium.
Maia is one of the few grappling specialists who doesn't have this problem. Between his lateral drop and unassuming raw strength, a fight he wants on the ground is a fight he'll get to the ground. Persistence is not an abstract concept with Maia; against Story he went from double, to single, to crotch until Rick's sinuses opened up their own blood bank.
Another problem grapplers have when it comes to transitioning into MMA is something I've always talking about; knowing the mechanics is no longer enough in this sport. You have to think two steps ahead. Maia...as you can see...is more than capable.
Ares doesn't have Maia's jiu jitsu, but he'll have the advantage on the feet. MacDonald does a lot of fundamental things well, and had to learn how to do them well early. This is a kid who started fighting pro when he was 16 after all. While he's polished throwing a hard, powerful right hand, and traditional legs, it's his left hand who sets everything and does so much work.
Rory is really a counter striker by trade. And that ability stems from the jab that he uses in a variety of ways. It's important to note that his posture is elite in this sport. He maintains a wide base, and whether he's pawing with the jab or throwing it, his left shoulder is always shifting up and down. Kind of like (and forgive the comparison) Juan Manuel Marquez.
While his slow starts are not necessarily a good thing, he's not actively trying to give the fight away obviously; instead he's developing a rhythm and finding his range against his opponent.
What both men can't do: I favor MacDonald because slow starts are generally only dangerous against heavily active fighters. Maia is not a quantity type fighter who looks like he just wants to accumulate points.
Maia's boxing has come a long way. There are times when he sits down on his punches, and you think "well if that had landed..." I'm not suggesting he's secretly Bruce Banner level powerful. Just that I think people tend to boil his striking down to the Nate Marquardt riff raff. However, he still paws with the right jab a little too much from his southpaw stance, and has virtually no head movement.
Weidman who has since proven his boxing chops (can we say he technically owns two knockouts over Anderson Silva?). Yet despite how awful he looked against Maia he still managed to score punches on him (granted, short notice and all). Because of this, I feel like there is plenty of room for Rory to mark his territory.
Obviously, the real pleasure is seeing what happens if these two hit the ground. I'm picking Rory because I expect the ground display to be limited, but for all of Maia's strengths, he'll never wow you with his speed. He'll need that if he wants to turn a scramble into mount, or back control. But even against guys like Grove, Miranda, and Miller...Demian wasn't able to really distance himself.
X-Factor: At this point, we're aware of Rory's seeming weakness. He has trouble really containing active aggressive strikers. Maia has nothing to do with this description, but how will Rory deal with an aggressive grappler? We saw a hint of this against the undersized Penn, but I'm wondering how Rory deals with having to use his takedown defense all round. One of the reasons why I expect Rory to defend Demian's takedowns better than most is that he doesn't overcommit on his punches while moving his feet. He'll be able to reflexively avoid certain shots, and I think he can get back to his feet quickly and intelligently enough to avoid exchanges on the ground.
In-Fight Soundtrack: Didn't Rory walk out to Rihanna last time? As odd as it will be, expect this to be the sound of violent victory this weekend.
Prediction: Rory MacDonald by Decision.