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Rory MacDonald beats Neiman Gracie, advances to Bellator welterweight grand prix final

Rory MacDonald, left, kicks Neiman Gracie during the

Rory MacDonald, left, kicks Neiman Gracie during the third round of a welterweight championship mixed martial arts bout at Bellator 222 on June 14, 2019. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Here was the big question swirling around the MMA circles heading into Bellator 222: Which Rory MacDonald would show up in the cage to face Neiman Gracie?

Would we see the warrior MacDonald, the one who enthralled fans with his epic (and bloody) battles through the years? Or, would we see a MacDonald more reflective of his comments after his last fight where he said he didn’t know if he had the desire to hurt people anymore?

On Friday night, in the main event at Madison Square Garden, the answer revealed itself instantly and it stuck around throughout the entirety of the fight. The “Red King” came to New York City to fight.

And fight MacDonald did, showing a crisp jab, solid straights and hooks and successful submission defense as he defended his welterweight title against the previously undefeated Gracie. The judges awarded MacDonald the unanimous decision victory, 49-46, 48-47, 48-47.

“I felt like my skills were sharp,” MacDonald said. “It was like pure competition, and I was focused and everything was good.”

The fight also was the welterweight grand prix tournament semifinal, and MacDonald (21-5-1) advances to face Douglas Lima in the final, with $1 million at stake in addition to the welterweight title. MacDonald beat Lima for the welterweight title at Bellator 192 in January 2018.

Bellator president Scott Coker said that fight likely would happen in September. MacDonald, at the post-fight news conference, was skeptical that he'd be ready by then. He said he has to heal up from having two fights in about two months. Plus, he and wife are expecting another child soon. MacDonald said he could be ready by December, or "maybe November."

“I need to come into that fight with an iron will again," MacDonald said of facing Lima. "I think that’s very important to have fighting a guy like that. I need to be a tiger.”

MacDonald showed no hesitation at the onset of the fight against Gracie. At one point, he caught a kick from Gracie (9-1), and walked him back to the cage while measuring up a powerful straight right.

Gracie, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist, had several different submission attempts throughout fight, but MacDonald was able to defend against it and escape.

“I really had to be a little conservative on top," MacDonald said, referring to Gracie's submission skills. "I think I dominated the ground besides his submission attempts.

“When you’re dealing with a submission artist, you want to keep your limbs in because that’s what he wants to attack. Or take your back. But you want to keep your limbs in, and he almost got them.”

New York Sports