Does Rory MacDonald have what it takes to be Canada’s next big UFC star?
A humble, unassuming Canadian blue-chipper with a quiet confidence is about to get his first UFC welterweight title shot at age 25. Sound familiar?
Rory MacDonald and Georges St-Pierre are following a very similar path. The comparisons are unavoidable, right down to the fact that the two are training partners at Tristar Gym in Montreal. Both are good-looking, well-spoken and extremely talented, versatile athletes with a singular goal: to be the best in the world.
St-Pierre won the UFC belt for the first time in 2006 and, with a snag against Matt Serra in between, went on to carry the UFC in Canada for many years. GSP put Canadian MMA on the map and became one of the most famous athletes in the country. All told, St-Pierre will go down as one of the most popular fighters in UFC history.
MacDonald has many of the same attributes, but is somewhat detached from the public eye. He has a chance to achieve all the athletic success that St-Pierre has, but will that be enough make him a significant pay-per-view draw and beyond? That part is unclear.
"I don’t necessarily have plans to be that recognizable, but I want to take a similar path to him as far as dominance as a martial artist," MacDonald told FOX Sports. "He continued to grow all the way through his career. That’s something I admire."
Both St-Pierre and MacDonald can be quiet and reserved. Neither will ever talk like Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor. There is rarely any trash talk. That works for a star in Canada, where fans "embrace the soft spoken, humble athlete as opposed to the brash trash talkers that capture the MMA spotlight," according to longtime MMA analyst Joe Ferraro.
It’s going to take a complete change to Rory’s ‘brand’ to replicate what Georges did in Canada. GSP caught lightning in a bottle and had a team who crafted his image to appeal to the masses, not just to the MMA populous.
-Joe Ferraro, MMA analyst
But where St-Pierre was adept at picking his spots and allowing fans and media into his life, MacDonald is even more subdued. He would prefer not playing that game at all.
"It’s going to take a complete change to Rory’s ‘brand’ to replicate what Georges did in Canada," said Ferraro, who works for Sportsnet in Canada. "GSP caught lightning in a bottle and had a team who crafted his image to appeal to the masses, not just to the MMA populous. Georges didn’t always agree to it, but played the game accordingly. Rory is cut from a different cloth and has a fair amount of work to do before becoming a mainstream star in his home country."
St-Pierre, as a person, is outgoing. He enjoys going out and frequenting restaurants and nightclubs, fame be damned. MacDonald is more introverted. He’s a type-A personality, who fixates on hobbies like motorbikes and hunting. You’re not likely to see MacDonald partying or being sponsored by Bacardi, like GSP.
"I don’t like people fussing over me," MacDonald said. "I’m a pretty simple guy. I like everything to just be normal."
When it comes to the notoriety, MacDonald talks like it’s something he’ll have to overcome rather than something he wants to embrace.
"You take it," MacDonald said. "It’s just a part of it. I have to learn to accept it and I accept it. I want to be a great martial artist, great champion. I’ll deal with it."
MacDonald will fight for the title sometime in 2015. He’ll get the winner of the UFC 181 main event between champion Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. The UFC is rolling out the red, maple-leaf carpet for MacDonald — UFC president Dana White said he’ll get that title shot in Canada.
It’s clear the UFC is banking on MacDonald doing big business there. The country has become a hotbed for MMA, much of that due to the popularity of St-Pierre, a homegrown superstar.
Can MacDonald grab the torch from GSP and become Canada’s next big UFC star? Winning the welterweight title will help, of course. The rest seems to be his choice.
"While both are fairly reserved, Georges knew when and how to break out of his shell, in order to captivate not just the MMA fanbase, but reach out to the mainstream masses," Ferraro said. "Rory can do the same, but it’s up to him to decide when and how."