When Rory MacDonald, 22, was born in 1989, his opponent this weekend at UFC 133, Mike Pyle, 35, was beginning his transformation into a young man. When MacDonald was rushing home from junior high to play with his Pokemon, a 170-pound Pyle was making (and losing) his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut against future 205-pound champion, Quinton Jackson. When MacDonald finally earned the opportunity to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in early 2010, Pyle -- a well-traveled 26-fight veteran -- was already three fights deep into his own contract with the promotion.
It's an experience edge that Pyle has latched onto in the run up to their welterweight showdown this weekend (Sat., Aug. 6, 2011) at UFC 133, which will be featured on the televised portion of the "Evans vs. Ortiz 2" pay-per-view (PPV) main card. "Quicksand" has also framed it, essentially (and I'm editorializing here), as a real man taking on just some snot-nosed, albeit extremely talented, little punk .
That type of mindset doesn't bother MacDonald one bit. In fact, he thinks it will ultimately work in his favor when the cage door finally closes deep inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on fight night.
"It's going to suck for Mike Pyle if he comes into this fight thinking that I'm just some little kid," MacDonald told me in an exclusive interview for MMANation.com. "I'm one of the most experienced and successful young talents out right now. I've gone through a lot in my life and in my career so far. Age is just a number, nothing more. Sure, he's got a lot more fights and experience, but I've got youth on my side. I've also got a lot of creative tools that he is going to have to worry about, so good luck to him trying to handle them. It isn't just about age. There's so much more to it."
MacDonald, a naturally gifted multi-sport athlete, is referring to his God-given talents, as well as the skilled trainers, coaches and fighters who surround him in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He admits that he had the choice to pursue a professional career in other sports, but his passion for MMA was so strong that there was just no way he couldn't follow the path that he is on now.
"Soccer, hockey was pretty big, but that kind of just fell off, baseball and I was even pretty good at golf believe it or not," he said. "All of these, however, took a back seat to MMA. I can't really put my finger on it -- there is something about the training and everything else that comes along with it. When I'm not training or fighting, I'm watching MMA. It's what I was born to do."
MacDonald, who has been a professional fighter since he was 16 years young and began training MMA two years before that, currently hones his craft at the prestigious Tristar Gym, working with "great" coaches like Firas Zahabi, Jonathan Chaimberg, Bruno Fernandes, Eric O'Keefe and Grant Howard, among others.
It's at this local facility, which is also home to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, as well as number one featherweight contender, Kenny Florian, among other accomplished veterans, where MacDonald has truly grown as a fighter, and a man, throughout the past year.
"Up until this point in my career, everything has come pretty natural to me with the exception of wrestling," he said. "That was definitely that last piece of the puzzle that I've been filling in these past few years. Georges has been a very key individual in my development as a fighter this past year. He, as well as Firas, has shown me so many great things. His experience, style and approach to training have really helped me out. They've really become great friends of mine, they have such a passion for the sport it's crazy. I work with them every day, they share their opinions and are really pushing me reach my true potential."
Along with his physical and developmental growth, MacDonald is also looking for symbolic ways to rebrand himself as he continues his ascent up the 170-pound contender ladder. Shortly after tooling the very talented Nate Diaz at UFC 129 earlier this year en route to a convincing unanimous decision, MacDonald revealed that he was doing away with his "Waterboy" nickname in favor of a more fight-fitting moniker "Ares."
Ares, the Greek God of War, "often represents the physical or violent aspect of war." He was a dangerous force, "overwhelming, insatiable in battle, destructive and man-slaughtering." MacDonald admits that for him it represents his alter-ego and more accurately reflects his personality when he steps inside the cage. He's just a different person when in fight mode ... and he certainly isn't channeling Adam Sandler.
"'Waterboy' wasn't really ever intended to be a 'professional' nickname," MacDonald explained. "It was something that I picked up in training at the gym with all my friends and training partners. So when people started referring to me a 'waterboy' in the UFC it was weird because no one knows the real meaning behind it, especially the fans."
And what exactly is the real meaning behind it?
"It's a personality thing with me that relates to the Adam Sandler movie that came out a few years ago," he revealed. "There are just a few scenes in there, a few things he does, that my friends thought were created with me in mind. It's all in the past now, including the nickname."
Indeed, MacDonald is quick to point out that he's putting a lot of things behind him, and is eager for that trend to continue when his fight with Pyle is over in just a few days. And it's rather appropriate, considering the man-sized gauntlet that Pyle has thrown down early and often to promote his side of their upcoming clash. For the most part, MacDonald has refused to engage Pyle in a war of words, preferring to focus on the task at hand and take the high road.
"Pyle does a few things very well," MacDonald explained. "He's very dangerous everywhere, really. But I can't really worry too much about what he's doing or saying. I have to implement my gameplan, which we've been working on this entire camp. I've watched tape on him. I've done my homework. I know what he does, but he could do something different when he fights me on Saturday. So I just need to focus on what I plan to do and nothing else. I have a few tricks and surprises up my sleeve for this fight. You're definitely going to want to tune in and watch it this weekend."
Tricks and surprises that perhaps an "old dog" like Pyle might not be prepared to handle from a strong, hungry, young lion who is motivated to takeover the welterweight pride.
"This is going to be my best fight ever," MacDonald exclaimed. "I feel excellent. I feel confident. I'm ready to shine and show the world once again that I belong here. It's time to get noticed again."