SPORTS

Rory (Ares) MacDonald wins big, now he waits for his UFC title shot

10/05/2014 03:47 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Rory (Ares) MacDonald has shown his championship credentials. Now he stands in the UFC wings, waiting for his title shot.

The 25-year-old welterweight took full advantage of his first UFC main event Saturday night, stopping former Strikeforce champion Tarec (Sponge) Saffiedine at 1:28 of the third round of a televised Fight Night card.

It was a clinical finish after two strategic rounds that saw bursts of activity from the two fighters.

MacDonald, ranked No. 2 among welterweight contenders, clipped Saffiedine with a right to the back of the head and then felled him with a powerful left uppercut. A turtled Saffiedine was finished on the ground by seven piston-like punches, with referee Herb Dean stepping in to save the American-based Belgian.

Saffiedine, ranked ninth, was left dazed and bloody on the canvas.

MacDonald (18-2) used his size and reach — and ability to control distance — to blunt Saffiedine's considerable kickboxing skills.

"Tonight I felt at my best," he said after the fight, clad in a stylish suit and his face largely unmarked. "I was really flowing out there."

As he did in previous 2014 wins over Tyron (The Chosen One) Woodley and Demian Maia, MacDonald negated his opponent's skills. Saffiedine, a dangerous fighter, did not look threatening.

"Man, I don't really have an excuse," said Saffiedine (15-4). "I came prepared, I had a good camp. I was mentally ready, physically ready."

Now MacDonald awaits UFC 181 on Dec. 6, when champion Johny Hendricks defends his title against No. 1 contender (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler.

Despite losing via split decision to Lawler at UFC 167, MacDonald says he doesn't care who wins in December.

"I just want to fight the best man. Whoever," he said.

Whoever it is, MacDonald — a native of Kelowna, B.C., who fights out of Montreal — seems the logical choice to face the winner.

"I really don't see anyone else," he said. "I've beat some really good guys this year. ... Hopefully the UFC takes notice and puts me in that title fight so I can bring it back here to Canada."

"I feel like the natural step is the title shot," he added.

The 170-pound title used to belong to Georges St-Pierre, who trains with MacDonald in Montreal. St-Pierre vacated the title last December, saying he needed time away from the sport. He has yet to decide whether he will return.

While only 25, MacDonald has been fighting in the UFC since January 2010. Now 9-2 in the UFC, he has had to wait his turn.

Overshadowed by the iconic GSP, it took him 11 fights to get a main event. A fighter who rarely betrays his emotions, he has taken a zen approach to MMA.

"I wait and see how everything turns out," he said. "I'll reap the benefits later, win or lose."

While not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, MacDonald banged his chest when the fight ended Saturday and finally flashed a smile when his hand was raised.

Should MacDonald continue his winning ways, one wonders what might happen if St-Pierre decides to come back. UFC boss Dana White has already said GSP could return to a title bout.

The two teammates said in the past they wouldn't fight.

But while GSP returns from knee surgery sustained training during his hiatus, MacDonald keeps getting better.

Against Saffiedine, MacDonald landed 47 of 111 attempted significant strikes for a success rate of 42 per cent (he averages 43 per cent), according to FightMetric. Saffiedine was good on 42 of 136, (30 per cent, well below his average of 50.7 in Strikeforce, fourth-highest in the organization's history).

The six-foot MacDonald is a big, well-rounded welterweight. He is both hard to take down and good at taking his opponents down.

MacDonald comes across as somewhat cold because of his single-minded focus when it comes to fighting. But Saturday night he paid tribute to his fan support both in Canada and beyond the borders.

"It's a huge thing for me and all fighters to be recognized for our hard work and what we put on the line when we step in there," he said. "It takes some sort of bravery.

"It's nice when people acknowledge that and are appreciative of what we do."

The soldout crowd of 10,782 at the Scotiabank Centre deserved kudos for their enthusiasm and stamina. The main event ended at 2 a.m. local time.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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