In 2015, Rory MacDonald booked his biggest fight yet — a UFC welterweight title bout with then-champion Robbie Lawler. It was a rematch of an exciting split decision in 2013 won by Lawler, but MacDonald spent almost no time learning from that previous fight in his preparation.
“Not really, I was kind of fighting on a whim,” MacDonald said. ”I didn’t really game plan too much. I just went to go fight hard.”
MacDonald lost the bout in a fight-of-the-year contender on a late Lawler TKO despite the lack of planning. As MacDonald now prepares to run back another epic battle, this time against Douglas Lima at Bellator 232 on Saturday at Mohegan Sun, the Canadian isn’t making the same mistake.
“I took a lot of notes,” MacDonald said. “I want to address the weaknesses I showed in that fight.”
MacDonald (21-5-1, 3-1-1 Bellator) defends his Bellator title against Lima (31-7, 13-3), a former two-time champion, in the final bout of the promotion’s welterweight grand prix, the winner of which earns the belt as well as a $1 million prize. The pair met at Bellator 192 in January 2018, with MacDonald winning a back-and-forth unanimous decision to earn the welterweight title.
While MacDonald doesn’t have much experience against fighters he’s previously faced, Lima has seen a couple faces a few times during his eight-year tenure with Bellator, and he’s thrilled to be getting another shot at the last man to get the best of him.
“I always win the rematches, it’s not going to be different this time,” said Lima, who’s defeated Andrey Koreshkov twice since losing to the Russian in 2015. “I’ve been doing good with it and I’ve just got to keep this going, I feel good, it’s a good moment in my career right now.”
Bellator MMA president Scott Coker said the first match between MacDonald and Lima is among his favorites.
“Really, it was probably one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen in person. It really tested the spirit of Rory MacDonald and Douglas Lima,” Coker said. “I think Douglas made a tactical error because if he would’ve just got up and not followed him to the ground and made Rory get up, it would’ve been maybe a whole different ending. But it was very close and something that really tested the character and spirit and perseverance of both those guys. I’m proud of both of them, it’s been a yearlong grueling tournament.”
The damage Lima caused to MacDonald’s legs with his low kicks is among the lasting images of that night.
“I think it’s a strength of his,” MacDonald said of the low kicks. “Obviously he’s got other tools, but that’s one of the main things he does, I expect him to do more of it.”
Lima said he may go back to the same strategy despite losing the fight if the opportunity presents itself, but he expects a savvier MacDonald this time around.
“They’re smart with game plans and stuff like that, so I’m sure they’ve got something planned for the leg kicks, I’m not going to look for it too much,” Lima said. “If I see it I’ll take it, but we’ll see, we’ve just got to see how the fight’s going, what they’re thinking about what to do with the kicks and stuff. It’s going to be chess match for sure.”
Lima also expects the bout to be just as hard-fought as the first time around.
“I’ve just got to look for the opening, but it’s going to be a grind, it’s probably going to be five rounds again,” Lima said. “I’ll be looking for the finish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes five rounds with a guy who is hard to finish and been through some wars before. I’m just looking forward to the challenge, it’s fun, this is why we do this.”
But MacDonald, with his typical soft-spoken confidence, sees things going much smoother — and quicker — for him in this rematch.
“I expect this one to be very dominant, I’m going to finish him early on,” MacDonald said. “Just the way training camp went, I’m very sharp and I feel like I can apply that exactly in this fight.”