Rory MaDonald vs. Douglas Lima for Bellator 232 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
One Line Summary
David: American Typo
Phil: An unpredictable tournament gathers a sense of foreboding
Record: Rory MacDonald 21-5-1 Draw | Douglas Lima 31-7
Odds: Rory MacDonald +157 | Douglas Lima -172
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: Rory’s history will have a lot to do with the UFC when all is said and done. Hopefully that changes. In the same way, rich MMA history was woven for the rings of Pride, long before reality-tv was needed to reach an American audience, perhaps we’ll experience a “post-Zuffa” era, with companies like ONE and Bellator able to create their own wonderful fight odysseys. Or not. Regardless, it’s nice to see Rory continue doing battle. His game has dulled in spots, and he’s on the wrong end of ‘peak pugilism’, but he’s still an excellent, technical prizefighter who deserves the biggest stage, octagon or no octagon.
Phil: Rory MacDonald is a fighter that I have a lot of time for. I think that there were a lot of misconceptions around him on his way up- firstly that he was going to be the next GSP (sadly he didn’t have close to his friend’s physical gifts), and secondly that he was some kind of comedically mad Patrick Bateman. Instead he always seemed to be a quiet, awkward guy who nonetheless found violence to be a tremendous way of communicating with people. He never reached quite the heights that people predicted for him, but Bellator welterweight champion and one half of one of the best fights of all time? That’s a resume to be proud of, even if (as some suspect) he might not be long for the MMA world after his comments following the Fitch fight.
David: Lima is one of those fun, nimble jiu jitsu striking hybrids that always seemed to exist outside of the UFC: Bibiano Fernandes, Joachim Hansen, Caol Uno, Gesias Cavalcante, etc. It’s too bad a lot of UFC fans likely haven’t had a chance to see Lima fight. He’s a lot of fun, and for the last decade has been a searing presence, only losing to Ben Askren, Andrey Koreshkov, and Rory MacDonald in that time span. He has the potential to avenge two of those losses this weekend. Plus his KO of MVP might one of those funnier KO’s in recent memory; I mean, to the extent that a guy getting knocked unconscious is funny.
Phil: With every brother pairing in MMA (with perhaps the exception of the Nogueiras) there seems to be a clear A and B-side. Shogun and Ninja, Alistair and Valentjin, Lyoto and Chinzo, Patricio and Patricky. Douglas is definitely the better of the two Lima brothers, and while he can occasionally share some vulnerabilities with Dhiego, he remains a hell of a lot more fun to watch, and someone who I genuinely think could challenge a lot of elite welterweights in the UFC. At the time of writing it’s up in the air as to whether we get the “BMF” belt, but can you imagine what horrors Douglas would inflict on Nate Diaz? Hardly bears thinking about.
What’s at stake?
David: This fight says a lot about the division. As in, it’s either trending up or down. That’s actually all I got.
Phil: I have to say, this tournament has gone relatively smoothly. The weird Rory draw with Fitch, the execrable Daley-Page fight.. it’s come close to being upended a couple of times, but has ended up broadly where we expected. Now these two get to run it back for all the marbles.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Rory Mac has gone through a number of changes throughout his time in the MMA, but honestly seems to be reverting slightly of late. When he first started to make waves in the UFC’s welterweight division, he was a wrestler and top control ground and pounder. In recent years, it seems like he can’t really trust himself to hold up in exchanges, and so that is what he’s come back to. What he has gained in the interim is craft: an ability to work deep into his wrestling and grappling exchanges. He hits a nice single leg transition and crackdown, he has a crafty butterfly guard from bottom, and he’s willing to hit submissions like the kimura in order to sweep. The pieces of his striking game are still there: the long jab and front kick and the right hand behind it, but he seems less willing to let it go than he used to be back in the days when he was carving up fighters like Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia on the feet. In general he’s still physically strong, but he was never the most durable fighter, it feels like the injuries and wars have taken a toll on his willingness to get torn to pieces in the cage.
David: Rory has a pretty basic package of skills: he’s a skilled, powerful jab-heavy striker, and he’s a technical, conservative grappler. There’s really not much beyond that. What’s crucial to Rory being borderline elite throughout his career is that he knows when to commit to switching. It’s practically formula: dealing with a skilled striker? Karelin the shit out of him. Dealing with a skilled grappler? Holmes him to death. No, it hasn’t always gone so smoothly, but he’s a big-framed, highly technical fighter, which is somewhat of an asset onto itself. I think that’s part of what throws opponents off. Not to torture the ridiculous American Psycho phase, but it’s probably a bit jarring for a fighter with Rory’s frame to so calmly break down distance with a jab. Obviously, things have changed in recent years. It’s not a logic stretch to say that Rory lost something in the fights with Robbie Lawler. Where once Rory could stand in the pocket and deliver punishing overhands and hooks, now every exchange in the pocket is like a moment in time: as if Lawler’s left hand is trapped in amber, with Rory’s eviscerated nose trapped right alongside with it. Like the Lovers of Modena. Some say Rory is still fighting Lawler in the 5th.
Phil: Douglas Lima is one of the finest counterpunchers in MMA at the moment. A classic dutch-style kickboxer, he plays off a power jab, hook and low kick about as well as anyone does. Paul Daley has shown how dangerous he still is, and yet Lima handled him relatively easily, running the king of the left hook repeatedly into his own left hand, and chopping his base out from under him. Lima has shown something of a consistent weakness to chain wrestling and getting backed to the fence in general, but the sheer threat he possesses on the feet means that navigating that last bit of space is remarkably dangerous. Lima has been somewhat too willing to play guard in his past fights, although his trilogy with the dogged Andre Koreshkov has forced better hip and sprawl awareness out of him. In addition, Lima is himself no mean wrestler and top position grappler should he turn his mind to these things, and was able to set up in MacDonald’s guard for pretty much an entire round in their first bout.
David: Lima offers something few striker/grappler hybrids offer, which is an actual identity on the feet. For many fighters who support their primary game with striking, striking is treated as dessert: if you have room for it, dig in. Otherwise, leave it in the fridge. Lima has an actual understanding of how his game and physiology work in tandem with structure. He waits patiently for opportunities, offers brutal leg kicks, and has no problem working aggressively toward submissions.
Insight from past fights?
David: Obviously, we have to talk about the first fight. Rory’s performance is an exaggerated version of the criticisms directed at him lately. Instead of showing any interest in the exchanges, Rory just worked doggedly to fight inside the clinch. I use the word ‘fight’ loosely not because I’m foolishly questioning his resolve, but because Rory is much more risk-averse in this moments. It probably wouldn’t stand out as much if not for the fact that he’s simply aged the way tough, badass fighters age. His jab no longers works in support of other strikes, and his wrestling suffers as a result, but even on one leg, he controlled the pace of the fight over Lima, who had no real answer to those single legs.
Phil: Their first fight was razor close, and MacDonald undoubtedly took more damage than Lima while still managing to narrowly outpoint him. The factors which make this particularly concerning for the champion are that Lima seems like he has to make far fewer adjustments, and that he’s been so good at making them in other rematches. Those Koreshkov fights are a telling story if you view them as a whole: Lima struggling badly in the beginning, gradually stopping more and more of Koreshkov’s wrestling offense over time, and eventually even outgrappling him to pick up the RnC.
David: Will Rory’s leg hatch another baby dinosaur?
Phil: Um. “I feel like God has really called me the last little while and, I don’t know. He’s changed my spirit, changed my heart and it takes a certain spirit to come in here and put a man through pain and stuff and I don’t know if I have that same drive to hurt people anymore. I don’t know what it is but it’s confusing. I know the Lord has something in store for me, he was speaking to me in here tonight and, I don’t know, it’s a different feeling.”
David: The problem with Rory is that his technique was the second helix woven around his physicality. Now he’s no longer interested in powering his way through clinches, exchanges. Not because he’s afraid but because he’s simply lost a step. It happens. Even to the best of them. And as good as Rory was, he was never the best. It’s a hard truth. And one I expect him to “learn” against a fighter against Lima, who for all of his weaknesses, still feels like a fighter in an upward trajectory. Douglas Lima by TKO, round 2.
Phil: It is very hard to trust Rory. He did not look good against Fitch and looked atrocious against Mousasi. His limited physical gifts have been pushed to their limit and beyond and I suspect he does not have the same drive that he once had. Lima is a ferocious athlete and has shown an amazing ability to adapt to a tough, well-rounded opponent. This one feels ominous. Douglas Lima by TKO, round 1.