Bellator MMA stepped up in a big way with its latest signing. This isn’t some typical aging UFC veteran the promotion brought in. This is Rory MacDonald we’re talking about.
MacDonald isn’t some 30-plus-year-old fighter coming over after the UFC let him go to make room for the next generation of fighter. It isn’t someone relying on his past accolades to get a big payday. No, this is one of the top welterweights on the planet making a move to Bellator from the UFC for what most likely is a huge payday and a potential great run in Bellator’s welterweight division.
The Canadian fighter has long been one of the top contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division. This is an accomplishment in itself, considering just how deep the UFC welterweight division has been since the departure of former welterweight champion and MacDonald training partner Georges St-Pierre.
The 27-year-old MacDonald has had a lengthy flirtation with the title, racking up big wins against victims that include current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and top contenders Demian Maia and Tarec Saffiedine. Now, Bellator adds him to a welterweight roster that includes Michael “Venom” Page, Paul Daley and champion Andrey Koreshkov.
This signing shows a departure from the typical aged UFC veterans on losing streaks that Bellator has pursued in the past. The big revelation is that Bellator has — and is willing to spend — the money to sign young fighters in the primes of their careers and at the top of the division. The organization can even entice these fighters away from the UFC, proving that they are a legitimate rival to the long-dominant promotion. This is the MMA version of the competition between rival football leagues the NFL and the USFL in the 1980s.
The USFL rose up in the mid-80s as competition to what has become the biggest sporting organization, a now billion-dollar industry, in the United States. The USFL signed and drafted some of the best names coming into professional football, including Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly and Reggie White. The league did this by using some of its monetary power to entice players to sign with the league’s teams instead of signing with NFL teams. It worked for a short time, but eventually the USFL wasn’t turning a profit. The organization was losing money due to these contracts and the fact that they were having trouble competing with the long-standing institution the NFL was becoming. However, the USFL helped change the NFL. It brought bigger contracts to the players and helped players leverage teams in the NFL. This is what Bellator can become in its battle with the UFC, but perhaps the company can avoid the USFL’s money-sinkhole problem.
MacDonald is the start. Bellator can create competition for the services of fighters, get some of the top guys and then work its way into creating a compelling product that directly competes with the UFC.
MacDonald opens a lot of doors in the welterweight division, but his most likely debut will come against Koreshkov in a title fight. Of course, there’s also the possibility that he gets an easy first fight to kick-start his Bellator career. Bellator has a lot of options that only benefit the bottom line. Paul Daley could be a huge first opponent for MacDonald.
MacDonald could even potentially see time as a middleweight if he takes the belt and is offered to go for two. Bellator’s middleweight division isn’t exactly deep and could be ripe for the taking for MacDonald.
The aforementioned Page is one fighter Bellator should not pair with MacDonald. Page should not fight MacDonald unless it’s in a title fight. Instead, Page should stick to his path and work his way up. MacDonald would be too much, too soon for the British phenom. Sure, MacDonald lost to striker Stephen Thompson, but Page isn’t at Thompson’s level yet. If Bellator were to throw Page and MacDonald together and Page lost, which would be likely, then Page’s mystique would be gone. It would kill the hype train Page and Bellator have so diligently and lethally put together.
Ultimately, MacDonald should get Koreshkov first. MacDonald could be a nice pull as champion in Canada. It sets up some interesting dynamics, too. Koreshkov also stands to be a big winner if he were to beat MacDonald. Imagine if Koreshkov defended his title twice against UFC free agents — first, former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and then former UFC welterweight title challenger MacDonald. This would be massive to solidifying Koreshkov as one of the better welterweight fighters on the planet. It would show that the Bellator champions can hang with the UFC champions, much like their past WEC and Strikeforce counterparts who have dominated on the UFC stage. If Koreshkov’s contract were to run out after those two wins, he could be in store for a nice payday. It just goes back to showing how much MacDonald’s signing can change the pay landscape in the sport.
The addition of MacDonald to the roster is fantastic for Bellator. This is an A+ signing for the promotion. MacDonald may be on a two-fight skid, but his losses came against former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and the aforementioned Thompson, a guy who will be fighting for the title in the not-so-distant future. This is just the next step for Bellator and could be a sign of things to come as the company makes a competitive play against the UFC.