When Rory MacDonald meets Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night 89 on June 18, an amalgamation of fascinating storylines will come together in what could be one of the most important fights in the welterweight division. While we’ve already seen a number of significant bouts at 170-pounds this year, most notably Rory Lawler defending his title against Carlos Condit and Conor McGregor’s loss to Nate Diaz, in terms of the future of the division, this could be the most symbolic.
While MacDonald’s stock has never been as high after his incredible battle with Lawler last year, the Canadian has made it known his fight on June 18 will be the last on his current UFC contract. Thompson, meanwhile, had been tipped by many to be handed a title shot of his own after knocking out former champion Johny Hendricks in February, only for the UFC to reward him with a match-up against one of the best at 170lbs. This is a fight that will have massive consequences for both men and the entire division.
So, as we prepare for a fight that has UFC fans split, with MacDonald given odds of 10/11 with 32Red Canada, let’s have a look at both fighters’ route to a fight that could be one of the most intriguing this year.
Ever since making his UFC debut in 2010 as a fresh faced 20-year old, Rory MacDonald has been one of the most exciting welterweight fighters in the organisation. If there was any doubt as to just how elite the Canadian is during his early career, victories over the likes of BJ Penn, Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley proved MacDonald’s credentials.
After going on a three-fight winning streak following a narrow split decision loss to Robbie Lawler, the Canadian Psycho booked himself in the history books by playing a huge role in one of the most remarkable title fights in welterweight history, only to suffer a second defeat to the current champion. It’s not getting any easier for MacDonald, who is now facing a storming Thompson.
Aside from a lone points loss to perennial contender Matt Brown in his second appearance in the UFC, Stephen Thompson has climbed his way up the rankings as impressively as anyone in recent welterweight history. With a stellar upbringing in karate, Wonderboy racked up an unbeaten record of 57 wins in kickboxing before making the move into MMA, bringing his unique and eye-catching style to the UFC in 2012.
While a stunning spinning hook kick knockout of Jake Ellenberger last July really put Thompson on the 170-pound map, it was an equally as breathtaking stoppage of Johny Hendricks in February that really put the 33-year- old into title contention. Now, MacDonald stands in the way of Wonderboy and his shot at the welterweight belt. Having trained with former middleweight champion Chris Weidman for the past two years, Thompson knows what it takes to be the best and will head into his fight against MacDonald with odds of around 41/50 with 32Red, UNIBET and other sportsbooks.
There is a strong case to claim that the outcome of this fight will shape the future of the welterweight division. If MacDonald wins, he puts the UFC in a position where the next obvious title contender has been beaten by a man entering the free agency. Despite his two losses to Lawler, a third fight between the 26-year- old and the reigning champion – providing he gets past Tyrone Woodley at UFC 201 – wouldn’t be hard to sell. And without a new deal already in place, MacDonald would be in an incredibly strong position when it comes to negotiating a fresh contract.
A Thompson victory, meanwhile, could see the UFC in possession of a new superstar, and one who appeals to almost every area of the fan-base. A clean-cut country boy, the fifth degree karate black belt ticks a lot of boxes you’d want from a champion. The way in which he goes about his business in the cage is traditional mixed-martial arts at its finest and most clinical. A win over MacDonald would no doubt earn Wonderboy a shot at the title. On current form, you’d have to fancy the rampaging Thompson to beat either Lawler or Woodley.
There is a reason why the fans and bookmakers are split on this fight, and it really is one that could go either way. What we can say for certain is that this looks like being one of the fights of the year.