Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie headlines Bellator 222 this Fri, Jun 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.
One sentence summary
David: A frown for a king
Record: Rory MacDonald 20-5-1 Draw | Neiman Gracie 9-0
Odds: Rory MacDonald -165 | Neiman Gracie +145
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Rory was carved out a post-UFC career for himself that is dangerously close to what he’s done in Bellator. First some big wins. Then a crushing loss. His non-loss didn’t exactly set the world on fire. But it was a non-loss against the Jay Bouwmeester of MMA. Yes, a hockey reference. The Blues just won the Stanley Cup, and it involved all of your favorite Office memes. Leave me alone. Anyway, Jon Fitch was a good test. He just wasn’t particularly dangerous. Neiman may not have the attrition qualities that Fitch has, but he’s definitely more dangerous.
David: Neiman Gracie is doing exactly what you can ever ask in a prospect: beat the people they put in front of you. Or in this case, twist the people they put in front of you into a pretzel. Except for Roger Carroll in Gracie’s sophomore bout in Bellator, it’s been neck cranks, chokes, and the kind of joint manipulation you’d typically see in a Seagal film, minus the etch-a-sketch facial hair, and malignant politics.
What’s at stake?
David: Rory’s future, basically. There’s no reason not to be blunt about it. MacDonald is a thoughtful dude. I think if he loses, it makes his decision to step away sooner rather than later easier. If he wins, it makes the decision harder. I don’t believe that will affect his performance though. Once that cage door slams shut, the guy across the cage will try to choke him out. Rory is in a position to stop that from happening. Just saying.
Where do they want it?
David: Not much has changed over the years. Rory remains the thoughtful presence in the cage he’s always been. With a strong jab, and a pounding straight right, MacDonald sidesteps and resets in order to sequence from offense to defense. It’s a nice, stoic formula that has earned him big wins over some of the biggest names in the sport. But let’s go back to that jab. It’s one of the better jabs in all of MMA. It’s not so much that he’s able to throw it in a diversity of ways. A lot of guys are simply trying to land the jab. Which is fine. A jab operates as a means to an end. It’s a way to disguise the strikes that precede, or follow after. So great jabbers often have a way of stepping in with it, sometimes flicking it, sometimes sweeping it, etc — but always with a way of disrupting offense. Rory, conversely, just wants to find the opening, and jailbreak his opponent’s defenses with it. It’s a tactic that works and has worked for him for a long time. Along the way he’s developed different ways to exploit his compact, penetrating offense by using body kicks, clinch entries for clinch violence, and takedowns. But in the end, all roads lead to one. And that’s his left hand.
David: Neiman is good at doing what elite grapplers do: choking the life out of you, one sequential move toward positioning at a time. What I like about Neiman is that he works his movements extremely quick on the ground. This isn’t the patient shifting of a Demian Maia. It’s not that strongman progression of a Jacare, or the blue collar mechanics of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. It’s fantastic, stop-and-start sequencing. It makes Neiman hard to anticipate, sure, but it also injects the one thing that jiu jitsu-first fighters tend to lack: urgency. Granted, that’s by design. You can’t snap out an armbar, or triangle choke the way you can a jab, or a cross — unless you decide to hang ten. But Nieman achieves the closest thing by assertively switching his movements from one threat to the next. However, like most grapplers, Neiman just doesn’t have that near-gear-athleticism on the feet. His takedowns aren’t bad. He’s creative, which is probably more important than just raw brute strength. He’s got trips, and tricks to threaten a scramble even when both fighters are on the feet. Problem is gap. Minding the gap is one of the reasons why Jacare had the success that he had. He closed the distance fast, and had the strength to maintain momentum. Neiman doesn’t do this well, which could be a problem.
Insight from past fights
David: Both men experienced some ups and downs in their last fight. MacDonald struggled to stay upright, and Fitch even had some oddball striking success, which may have been the most unexpected outcome of all. Neiman was in scramble mode all night against Ed Ruth. One the one hand, Ruth is a significant step down from Rory. On the other hand, Fitch is a significant step down as a submission threat from Neiman.
David: Bla bla bla, war of words.
David: Rory has been a little too lax lately. He’s still a strong upright grappler, but he’s not a particular athletic counter-wrestler. He just stands firm, and wrestles for a proper grip. As long as Nieman commits inside the clinch, I could totally see him scoring a submission. I wouldn’t be so confident if Rory didn’t already have his head halfway out of the game. I think that’s part of my problem. His retirement talk feels tangible in the cage. Mousasi stuck it to him, and Fitch really took the fight to him despite the non-decision. Nieman isn’t as talented, and there’s a good chance Rory just outright crushes him. But unless Rory is pressing, it’s hard for Neiman to feel threatened. Despite whatever Ruth’s qualities as a future prospect are, I also liked that Neiman adjusted late in the fight. He was chaining his submission attempts too quickly. Finally he took a deep breath, slowed down, and his forearm as around Ruth’s neck. I don’t feel like Neiman is the better fighter. But if he’s at all good, and Rory is in the twilight of his career, now’s the time. Neiman Gracie by RNC, round 2.