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Rory MacDonald: ‘I like my chances’ to be Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix alternate

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Rory MacDonald claims Bellator president Scott Coker said he might add the welterweight contender to the upcoming heavyweight Grand Prix tournament as an alternate “depending on how” his January fight with champ Douglas Lima goes.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-MacDonald vs Thompson Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Rory MacDonald expects to be an alternate in the Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix tournament should his upcoming welterweight title fight against champion Douglas Lima go his way.

The former UFC title challenger told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour that Bellator president Scott Coker said there is a chance MacDonald could be part of next year’s tournament if a scheduled competitor falls out due to injury or a different reason. MacDonald, who typically fights at 170 pounds, could face fighters in the tournament who weigh up to 265 pounds.

“I spoke to Scott Coker about it and he said that maybe they would use me as an alternate if someone gets injured, and also depending on how my fight goes with Lima, obviously,” MacDonald said (transcript via MMAFighting.com). “I like my chances if someone gets injured or pulls out for whatever reason.”

Moving up three weight classes to fight in a tournament as an alternate may seem like an unrealistic or odd request, but according to MacDonald, Coker “seemed cool with it,” albeit “surprised.”

“I think he’s a pretty straight shooter,” MacDonald said of the Bellator boss, “so when he tells me something I have no reason not to believe him.”

MacDonald first showed interest in joining the tournament in an Instagram post and also while talking in a Facebook Live session last week. He confirmed that the interest was genuine on Monday. The Grand Prix was announced earlier this month and will include: Frank Mir, Muhammed Lawal, Chael Sonnen, Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson, Fedor Emelianenko, Quinton Jackson, and Ryan Bader.

The first tournament matchup is Sonnen vs. Rampage. It takes place at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 under the 170-pound title fight between Lima and MacDonald. The tournament bracket was finalized last week.

During his time with the UFC, MacDonald was an advocate for less rules in mixed martial arts. In April 2015, the Canadian top contender said he wanted headbutts and knees to the head of a grounded opponent allowed, as well as no time limits in bouts. MacDonald said that fighting heavier opposition in a tournament format would intrigue him and remind him of old-school MMA.

“I’ve always wanted to do a tournament, and I think it would be interesting doing it, kind of like old school,” he said. “I know I’d be undersized going in against these guys in a tournament, so it would kind of have an old school UFC vibe. That’s always something that would be interesting.

“Fight fans would find it interesting to see the new school MMA with a touch of the old school — the whole no weight limit thing even though I would have to make the weight.”

Four of the eight tournament competitors — “King Mo,” Sonnen, Jackson, and Bader, the current Bellator 205-pound titleholder — are all natural light heavyweights (or less). MacDonald doesn’t think the size disadvantage will play too big a part in the Grand Prix, though, and even sees one of the four light heavyweights — “Darth” Bader — as one of the two clear favorites to win the tournament and take home the heavyweight belt. The other fighter he expects will go far is Mitrione.

“I find that even with the light heavyweights, when you’re that size and you’re that athletic, it doesn’t really matter,” MacDonald said. “I know it’s a different sport, but we see in boxing, a lot of the dominant champs are actually undersized guys with more speed but equal power.”

But before potentially stepping into the cage with some of the best heavyweights and light heavyweights the Viacom-backed promotion has to offer, MacDonald has to get past Lima in Inglewood, California.

MacDonald (19-4) earned a title shot against Lima with a May second-round submission win over longtime contender Paul Daley in his Bellator debut. MacDonald, 28, left the UFC once he became a free agent after a decision loss to Stephen Thompson in June 2016.

“The Red King” had a six-plus-year career in the Octagon and recorded a promotional record of 9-4. Training out of Montreal’s TriStar, MacDonald beaten some of the best in the world, including current UFC champ Tyron Woodley, UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn and recent title challenger Demian Maia. He fought Robbie Lawler for the title in July 2015 and lost via fifth-round TKO in what would be dubbed “Fight of the Year.” He was up in that fight before Lawler broke the challenger’s nose in the final frame.