TORONTO - Canadian Rory MacDonald finds out Saturday who he will have to beat for the UFC welterweight title.
The 25-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., who trains out of Montreal, has been promised the next shot at the winner of Saturday's UFC 181 main event in Las Vegas between champion Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks and No. 1 contender Ruthless (Robbie) Lawler.
Hendricks (16-2) won a unanimous decision over Lawler (24-10 with one no contest) when the two met in March at UFC 171 to fill the title vacated by Montreal's Georges St-Pierre.
Hendricks lost a controversial split decision to St-Pierre at UFC 167 while Lawler won a split decision over MacDonald on the same November 2013 card.
MacDonald, meanwhile, has comprehensively beaten Tyron (The Chosen One) Woodley and Tarec (Sponge) Saffiedine since Hendricks claimed the crown.
MacDonald (18-2) will be cageside at the Mandalay Bay Events Center to figure out his future, with the ensuring title fight possibly coming as early as March in Montreal depending on how battered Saturday's winner is.
Hendricks says he's not looking beyond Saturday, although he knows all about the well-rounded Canadian waiting in the wings.
"A tough fighter," Hendricks said simply of MacDonald, who is ranked No. 2 in the 170-pound division.
Lawler believes MacDonald is a better fighter today than 13 months ago when he faced him.
"I think he's getting better every day," Lawler said. "He's young, he's getting stronger, he's getting faster, he's working on his technique. He's a force to be reckoned with for sure.
"He's hungry and he's coming for the top."
MacDonald also has a new nickname, with Red King replacing Ares which replaced The Water Boy.
GSP may also be a factor again down the line. The 33-year-old ex-champ has yet to say whether he will return to action following his hiatus.
The 31-year-old Hendricks has not fought since securing the title, requiring surgery in the aftermath to repair a torn bicep. Hendricks had hurt the arm in training and the injury got worse in the first round.
He promises he will be a different fighter this time. Hendricks, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion, blames the arm injury for making just two of 10 takedown attempts against Lawler. He also hurt his shin in the fight.
The time off was rejuvenating, Hendricks said.
"Fighting is a tough business," he said "It's a gruelling business, it's a grind. What was nice was I got that desire back, that willing to fight again, to remember why you fight ... Getting that hunger back I think is really going to help me for that next fight."
Hendricks has no apologies to make. Hendricks-Lawler 1 was a thriller, with the champion winning the first two rounds before Lawler came on in the third and fourth. Hendricks decided it with a gritty fifth round.
"Robbie's very tough. He's very hard to put away," said Hendricks.
He says Lawler pulled ahead in the middle rounds because the injured arm hindered his defence.
"He saw those openings and he capitalized on it," said Hendricks, who trains in the Dallas area. "That's what I've got to make sure I don't allow this time."
The two fighters attempted a combined 728 significant strikes, with Hendricks good on 159 of 397 and Lawler successful on 150 of 331.
"He just did a couple of things better than me," said Lawler, who has moved his family to Florida from Iowa to train year-round at American Top Team. "He's a competitor, he knows how to win, he knows how to win rounds. He competed a little bit better than me that night."
While Hendricks healed up, Lawler fought twice in the aftermath of the title loss. The 32-year-old stopped Jake Ellenberger in May and won a decision over Matt (The Immortal) Brown in July.
"I love pushing myself," said Lawler. "I'm a competitor. I love to work out. I love to fight ... It's just how I am. If I'm healthy, I'm going to fight."
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter