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

Rory MacDonald looks to put controversial loss behind him as he returns to PFL action

Last man, or woman, standing in each of the PFL’s six weight classes wins US$1 million

It’s been some eight weeks since Rory (The Red King) MacDonald lost to Gleison Tibau, and the Canadian welterweight still can’t believe it.

MacDonald remains incredulous that he was at the wrong end of a 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 split decision, despite out-striking the veteran Brazilian 81-32 at PFL 5 on June 17 in Atlantic City, N.J.

The 32 year-old from Montreal, by way of Kelowna, B.C., called it “a clear robbery.”

Many agreed. But the loss stuck.

“The lawyers and my management company took a look at what the possibilities (for appeal) were, what the angles I had. And basically to overrule a judge’s decision you would need physical evidence of some foul play, fraud, whatever it may be,” MacDonald said in an interview. “But obviously I didn’t have any physical evidence of that.

“So nothing you could do at that point.”

No doubt MacDonald (22-7-1) will look to take out his frustrations on Hawaii’s Ray (Bradda Boy) Cooper III (22-7-1) on Friday when they meet in the Professional Fighters League 170-pound semifinals at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

“He’s a really explosive athlete,” MacDonald said of his opponent. “He comes to fight hard and he wants to close the distance and get into a hard fight. So I’ll be ready for that. I’ll have to be on my ‘A’ game for him.”

Unlike other mixed martial arts organizations, the PFL features a regular season and playoffs. The last man or woman standing in each of the PFL’s six weight classes wins US$1 million.

Fighters are awarded points for each bout during the regular season, ranging from three points for a win by decision to six for a first-round stoppage.

MacDonald, a former UFC contender and Bellator champion, opened his PFL season in April with a first-round submission win over (Curtious) Curtis Millender. And despite the loss to Tibau, he qualified for the welterweight semifinals.

A victory over Tibau would seen MacDonald clinch the top playoff seed. Instead he dropped to the second seed, which meant a matchup with Cooper, who won the welterweight division in 2019.

No. 4 Magomed Magomedkerimov of Russia (27-5-0) meets Sweden’s Sadibou Sy (9-5-2) in the other semifinal Friday. No. 1 Joao (The Brazilian Samurai) Zeferino was to have faced Magomedkerimov, the PFL’s 2018 champion, but had to drop out due to injury.

Sy stood fifth in the 10-fighter standings so he was the next fighter in line.

While MacDonald has looked to put the Tibau decision behind him, it hasn’t been easy.

“Obviously it’s frustrating,” he said. “Having to talk about it with every single person you run into gets old pretty fast. But to be honest it is what it is and I move forward. It’s not going to define my career.”

He also took solace in the support he received after the controversy.

“It was really nice getting thousands of messages and seeing thousands of comments on posts — my posts and PFL posts — and major support of me winning that fight. it felt really nice to get that kind of confirmation from the public that they saw the same thing that I did.

“I think the only people who though Gleison won the fight was him and his teammates.”

MacDonald said he has since watched the bout “a couple of times.”

“My opinion only got stronger that I won that fight very clearly,” he said. “Three rounds to none.”

The 28-year-old Cooper has won his last four fights and is unbeaten in five (4-0-1). And he has been active. Despite the PFL going dark in 2020 due to the pandemic, Cooper has fought 12 times since the start of 2018 with a 9-2-1 record.

His last fight, a unanimous decision over Nikolay Aleksakhin, was the only one of the last 12 that went the distance.

MacDonald has fought seven times since the start of 2018 with a 3-3-1 record. Five of those bouts went to decision.

At six feet, MacDonald has a height advantage over Cooper, who is listed at five foot seven by the PFL. He will also have a six-inch reach advantage.

“I do feel that I’ll be able to trap him in a lot of different things. But you know what, I never make too many plans,” MacDonald said. “I just wait until I’m in front of someone and I go from there.

“But I do feel that with my skills and what I’ve seen from watching his fights, that I’ll be prepared to win that fight and be able to finish that fight.”

MacDonald, who trained for the bout at Florida’s Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, is still getting used to the tight turnarounds in the PFL schedule.

“It’s definitely a lot of training,” he said. “It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. It’s one of the harder seasons of fighting that I’ve had to go through … But I’m thankful to God that I’m healthy and full of energy and raring to go and focused. Things are good.”

He has prepared in Florida for more than a month without his family. His wife and two kids returned home to Montreal after the last fight.

“They have a better setup there,” he explained.

“It’s not easy … but we’re getting through it,” he added. “And we’re working hard towards our goal. We’re keeping that as our motivation.”

The lightweight semifinals also go Friday. The two other PFL post-season events are at the same venue on Aug. 19 and 27.

The semifinal events for the heavyweights and women’s lightweights are set for Aug. 19 while the men’s featherweights and light-heavyweights go Aug. 27.

MacDonald, who is signed with PFL for one more season after this one, expects the championship bouts to be held in October.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2021.

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