Canada’s Rory MacDonald, left, kicks Neiman Gracie during the third round of a welterweight championship mixed martial arts bout at Bellator 222 early Saturday, June 15, 2019, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Frank Franklin II

Canada’s Rory MacDonald, left, kicks Neiman Gracie during the third round of a welterweight championship mixed martial arts bout at Bellator 222 early Saturday, June 15, 2019, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Frank Franklin II

Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald looking forward to finally making PFL debut

Thanks to the global pandemic and his move from Bellator to the Professional Fighters League, Canadian welterweight contender Rory (Red King) MacDonald has not fought since October 2019.

But there is finally light at the end of the MMA tunnel, with the PFL set to return to action in April.

“It’s time,” says MacDonald. “It’s time to get back.”

“I feel like I’m in the zone,” he added. “I’ve been really hungry the last year to get back into the swing of things again.”

The 31-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., who now calls Montreal home, has already drawn plenty of interest from rival PFL 170-pounders. MacDonald (21-6-1) welcomes the attention.

“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m carrying some kind of a name going into the PFL and I think everybody wants a piece of me to lift their own name up and lift their own career.

“But I’m definitely not going in there as a stepping stone. I’m going there as a conqueror and they should be expecting the best version of myself.”

MacDonald made the move to the PFL in December 2019, leaving Bellator after a 3-2-1 run that saw him win the welterweight title.

In moving to the PFL, formerly known as the World Series of Fighting, MacDonald joins an organization with a set schedule unlike other MMA promotions.

The 2021 season, scheduled to start April 23, will feature six weight classes. Each fighter will have two bouts during the PFL’s “regular season.” The first half of the schedule takes place April 23, 29 and May 6 with the second half set for June 10, 17 and 25.

Fighters earn performance-based points, with three points for a win, plus bonus points for knockouts and submissions. They are seeded in standings for their weight class based on their point totals.

The top eight in each division advance to the single-elimination playoffs in October, where fighters must fight twice and win twice in the same night to advance to the finals. The 2021 PFL World Championship is slated for New Year’s Eve with the winners each earning US$1 million for being crowned PFL champions.

There is no word yet on MacDonald’s first opponent for the first round of the regular-season schedule.

While busy, the PFL format appeals to him.

“I think it keeps me focused. I feel like I need that to stay on my grind,” he said. “In the past, I’ve lost focus on long layoffs. I feel like it’s going to be a good thing for me.”

He even likes the old-school concept of fighting twice on the same night.

“You’ve got to be in top shape and have a rock-solid mindset, because there’s possibilities of having to battle through some tough things … It’s not an easy hurdle but I believe that it’s one (for which) I will rise to the occasion.”

Ray (Bradda Boy) Cooper III (20-7-1) won the PFL welterweight title in 2019, stopping David (Bulldawg) Michaud in the second round. The PFL’s entire 2020 season was called off due to the pandemic.

While MacDonald is looking forward to competing again, he has enjoyed the time off with wife Olivia and their four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.

“A huge blessing,” he said.

MacDonald says the time away has also allowed him “to work on things that I wasn’t able to with a full fight schedule in my life.”

“Everything from things in my career, my training, to just my personal life. I’m really thankful for (the break) and came out of that year a better version of myself, thanks to God.”

He has trained in gyms when he can, working out at home or in his garage when he can’t.

He last fought Oct. 26, 2109, when he lost his 170-pound crown via unanimous decision to Douglas (The Phenom) Lima in the final of Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix at Bellator 232. MacDonald had won the title from Lima by decision at Bellator 192 in January 2018.

MacDonald went 9-4-0 in the UFC, losing a welterweight title bout to (Ruthless) Robbie Lawless at UFC 189 in July 2015.

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