Friday, January 22, 2010

Exclusive B.C. Bio Interview: Rory MacDonald

Mere days after his return to British Columbia, following his UFC debut at Ultimate Fight Night 20, Rory MacDonald sat down with B.C. MMA Fan's Josh Oliveira to give this exclusive wide-ranging interview. Rory discusses deciding to begin training MMA at fourteen-years-old, his early fights, the distractions of high school, his UFC debut, fighting in the UFC in Vancouver, and what could be next for B.C.'s most phenomenal blue-chip prospect.

J.O: Your flawless pro career began with five fights in roughly one year from October 2005 to November 2006. For three of those fights you were only sixteen years old. Can you explain how you first got into MMA and how your age was a complicating factor in arranging your early fights?

Rory MacDonald: First of all, I have always been a fan of MMA since I was really young- same as boxing- it was always on the TV at my house when I was growing up.

J.O: Even during the so-called MMA dark ages?

Rory MacDonald: Exactly, I would always have the videos up at my house, so I’ve always enjoyed it and I have always been a fan of fighting. I was actually more of a fan of boxing, to tell you the truth, but I always thought it would be cooler to be an MMA fighter. I just thought it was more realistic. Anyway, one day when I was fourteen I was driving in the car with my brother talking about the UFC. I didn’t even know this, but he said that he had gone with his school to this gym; it was Toshido (510 Bay Ave., Kelowna, BC) where you went.

J.O: Yeah, I checked it out today.

Rory MacDonald: I said, “Oh cool, I’d like to go there.” All of a sudden, my dad just turned the car around. An hour later I was training for my first time.

J.O: Wow, that same day, eh? So, when you were sixteen and just starting out as a fighter, weren’t there some issues with promoters not being sure if they wanted you on their cards, that sort of thing?

Rory MacDonald: Oh, for sure. Actually, I wasn’t even really thinking about fighting at that age. I was just always doing the fight team training and I liked it so much. Then my training partners started saying, “You’re getting pretty good. You should fight.” I was already taking grappling tournaments pretty seriously because I was really competitive even then. So, I said, “Well, if you guys think I’m ready I wouldn’t mind fighting.” They said they would find someone my age and we tried for a few months with different cities, different athletic commissions, different opponents, but nothing was working out. Eventually, it just fell in our hands that I had an opportunity to fight in at EFC 4 in Prince George against a guy named Terry Thiara who was eighteen when I was sixteen.

J.O: And that was a professional fight, right? So you started off as a pro to begin with?

Rory MacDonald: Yeah, it was professional. I never liked the idea of headgear or new rules and I had trained the whole time with all the pros. They actually asked me because, I guess, Terry wanted it to be amateur. They even asked me at the weight ins, and I was like, “No, I won’t even fight if you do that.” So, they said it would be pro.

J.O: Oh yeah? So it was like, “Oh by the way…”

Rory MacDonald: Pretty much.

J.O.: Alright, so there were five fights in your first year, right? That must have been a lot of work at the time?

Rory MacDonald: I wasn’t even thinking about staying busy, it was just what I did. I mean, obviously I was taking every fight seriously, but there was no real reason for it besides me having fun.

J.O: After that fast start, you only fought twice in two years from November 2006 to November 2008, but in that period you defeated two of your toughest opponents in Kajan Johnson and Clay French. Were those long layoffs, like you said, not really part of a plan, or were they designed to give you some extra time to sharpen your skills?

Rory MacDonald: Actually, at one point I wasn’t even training for six months because I was pretty sick with a stomach thing. I went to doctors and they couldn’t figure it out, but I was also a grubby teenage kid, you know? I wasn’t really looking after my personal well being.

J.O: [Laughs] Yeah, not exactly watching your diet?

Rory MacDonald: Exactly, I was just a typical high school kid. I got sick, I couldn’t focus on training, and then there were girls and parties. I think it was my grad year. So there was just a lot of stuff going on at that time. Eventually, I got better from being sick. I cleared up all that stuff about parties, and other grad stuff. I took six months off and I stayed with my mom in Langley. Then eventually I started training again for the Kajan [Johnson] fight. Once I was training again, I got back in the groove and kept getting better. Then I got that opportunity against Clay [French].

J.O: It seems like your career really took off from there, maybe it was even good to get some of those other things out of your system?

Rory MacDonald: Exactly, yeah. That time period was just a bump in the road of my career, but I always have just done what I want in life. I don’t really enjoy going out or partying, but back when I did my fighting took a back seat. I don’t really think about it. It just happens. Right now, I’m having fun just training and fighting so that’s what’s taking the steering wheel.

J.O: So, these days, can you take me through a typical week of training at Toshido?

Rory MacDonald: Well, I am the only full-time fighter at the gym because everyone else works. It was obviously hard at the start, but now I’m starting to make money so I’m blessed in that way. Basically, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go in and train in the morning with my coach Dave [Lea]. Then I’ll teach a class, before doing some more training, maybe more jiu jitsu. At around five I do MMA sparring for an hour, then at six I do a couple more hours of jiu jitsu. So it’s about five hours of training on those days. Then on Tuesday and Thursday it’s similar, but I do strength and conditioning instead of MMA sparring.

J.O: I grew up in the Okanagan myself so I know how great it is here, but what do you say to claims that a move out of Kelowna and into a major centre, maybe Vancouver, would help you continue your MMA development?

Rory MacDonald: I wouldn’t move to Vancouver, there’s nothing really there for me. I do go to Montreal sometimes to train with my friend Georges St. Pierre. He has helped me out a lot and taken me under his wing a bit out there. They have amazing trainers there, and also amazing training partners and facilities, but I have some great coaching here with my friend and coach David Lea. The training partner situation, it’s, you know, a lot of people are making sacrifices even though they’re busy. It would be nice to have all those training partners from out in Montreal over here, but I’m figuring it out.

J.O: So a move to Montreal or anywhere like that is not, sort of, in the cards immediately?

Rory MacDonald: It’s not in my near future, anyway. Right now I’m comfortable with the situation that my coach and I have worked out.

J.O: I was going to ask you about your training in Montreal, actually. How about this, do you notice a major difference in skill-level between GSP and other guys that you’ve rolled with, just to put things in perspective?

Rory MacDonald: Yeah, I’ve rolled with some amazing jiu jitsu guys and I’ve been with better boxers, but for a guy who is so well-rounded at the game of MMA? I don’t think I have ever been with such an amazing fighter before. GSP just has an amazing athletic ability to get good at everything, which I have strived to develop myself. Obviously, his wrestling is just through the roof.

J.O: Right, I guess he may be trying out for the Olympics. What do you think of that?

Rory MacDonald: I think he would do well, but his wrestling and his MMA wrestling are two different stories. If you’ve got punches involved, he’ll take you down one-hundred percent of the time. He’s just so good.

J.O: Some have compared your well-roundedness and finishing ability to GSP’s and suggested that you may one day follow in his footsteps as a dominant Canadian fighter in the UFC. How do you feel about those comparisons and do you get any extra motivation from the lofty expectations people may have for you?

Rory MacDonald: I believe my style and Georges’ style are very different. He’s a wrestler with good striking ability and I’m a jiu jitsu guy with good striking ability. So we’re a little bit different in our approach. As far as following in his footsteps career-wise, it’s obviously an honour if that is a picture that people want to put me in.

J.O: As far as extra motivation, though, you’re motivated enough on your own?

Rory MacDonald: Yeah, all I need to motivate myself are my own goals that I’ve set for myself, which are very high.

J.O: Let’s talk, if we can, about your first UFC fight just over a week ago. There is a common notion of the so-called “first-time octagon jitters.” Did you experience anything like that?

Rory MacDonald: Yeah, I did for sure. Usually, I’m not nervous and I don’t put pressure on myself, but I had major pressure on myself in this fight just because, when you get to the UFC, if you’re not at the level they want you to be you’re gone. I know I am at that stage, but anything can happen in a fight. So there was a lot of pressure just to do well and I disappointed myself with the way I performed. Obviously I won and I’m very happy, but looking back I was just disappointed in the heat of the moment because I know I can do so much better.

J.O: I have had a chance to watch the fight, and it was certainly dominant. You were clearly winning the round even before you finished the fight, but for the fans that didn’t get a chance to see it, how would you characterize your match with Mike “The Joker” Guymon and how happy are you with your performance even if it wasn’t perfect.

Rory MacDonald: I’m happy that Joe Silva, my coaches and a lot of the pro fighters that I hold in high regard said they were impressed. All my family and friends really liked it. It makes me happy to hear all that, but I know how much more I have to show. So, I’m just eager to get back into training after taking a little bit of time to recuperate from my last training camp. I have a lot of stuff to work on, but, mentally, I know next time I won’t have those jitters so I’m just looking forward to my next fight with the UFC.

J.O: Alright, this is just something I noticed, but when you were setting up the fight-ending arm bar on Mike Guymon you used both your feet to free Mike's right arm from the grip of his left hand. It reminded me of something BJ Penn might do with his feet. Was that a technique that you’ve trained specifically?

Rory MacDonald: What it was is, I was setting up something called an X-break where you have both your feet over the arm like an X, and then you hook in his one arm and grab the far leg, which is called a spider web. It’s kind of an Eddie Bravo technique, at least that’s how I learned it.

J.O: So it was a slight adaptation of that?

Rory MacDonald: Well, I only had one in so I just switched my grip to the other side triangled the arm instead, but in the situation I was in it works.

J.O: Obviously effective, yeah.

Rory MacDonald: It was just kind of a counter to a counter to a counter. So, the way he was defending led me to do it. I don’t think I have ever submitted someone with that style. I have drilled it as technique, but it just kind of came along.

J.O: I thought it was impressive, anyway. You’ve been vocal about your desire to fight at UFC 115 at GM Place in Vancouver if it ends up happening on June 12th. What would it mean to you to fight so close to home?

Rory MacDonald: I grew up watching the [NHL’s] Canucks in GM Place and I remember just being in awe of how many people could fit in this place. So, I’ve always dreamt of competing there in front of all those fans. Obviously, being a local boy I will get a lot more cheers, not like fighting in Virginia against an American. So that sense of being at home will be cool if I can get on there, which I believe I will. Again, I still have to wait a couple weeks for that card to be confirmed.

J.O: There should be a lot of excitement, too. For those who don’t know, MMA was just recently re-sanctioned in Vancouver and there is a huge fan-base there. I believe the UFC has said it gets more PPV buys per capita out of Vancouver even than Montreal. So, UFC 115 could sell out in minutes.

Rory MacDonald: Oh yeah, I believe so. So hopefully I’ll get on that and it would just be great to fight in the UFC in my hometown, so to speak.

J.O: Asking you to call anybody out might be a bit unfair at this point, but are there any UFC welterweights you see whose styles you think would match well with your own?

Rory MacDonald: I am pretty much here to fight anyone, but I have heard some rumours about Nate Diaz wanting to fight at welterweight. He was complaining a bit about always cutting the weight and I think he was a bit disappointed with the judges’ decision [at UFN 20]. I think he’s being a bit of a whiner, but if he moves up to welterweight I would love to fight him.

J.O: Do you think his jiu jitsu would match up well with your own, or you just think it would be a good scrap?

Rory MacDonald: I don’t think he would get it [to the ground] and even if he did, that would be okay. I think I would knock him out on his feet in the first round.

[Update: in the time since this interview, UFC welterweight Rory Markham and returning-welterweight Diego Sanchez have both been linked to a fight with Nate Diaz.]

J.O: Alright, cool. Well those are all the questions I have for today, but are there any shout outs you want to put out there or sponsors you want to thank?

Rory MacDonald: I want to thank all my sponsors who helped me out in this hardest year just getting to the UFC. Obviously, my mother has helped me so much. Then just all my training partners, my coach, and all the people that have helped me train.

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