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By Matt Pelkey, MMATorch Columnist
Jon Jones defended his title for the third time Saturday night, besting Rashad Evans in all five rounds (I don't know what two of those judges saw, that was a clean sweep) to win a unanimous decision. Ho-hum. Jones was a huge favorite going in and the only real surprise about the fight was that he couldn't finish "Sugar" Rashad. Spectacular as it is to so summarily beat down your closest rival, it was a virtual workmanlike performance for Jonny "Bones."
This was a one fight card going in. All the hype (and rightfully so) was placed on the main event. It was Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans and... eleven other fights. That's not to say there weren't quality match-ups up and down the card (hell, Matt Brown vs. Stephen Thompson would've been the co-main event of most Fight Night Live events on Spike. Here it wasn't even the main event of the prelims), but about the top eight fights below the main event felt basically interchangeable. Well, except for two. Two fights on the UFC 145 undercard felt a little different. Not because they were exciting stylistic match-ups (they were), but because they featured two of the "next wave" of MMA fighters. The leaders of the new generation, if you will.
While Jon Jones was creating all they hype and soaking up all the attention at UFC 145, two guys were the lucky beneficiaries of all the added eyes on the event. First up was Michael "Mayday" McDonald. Mayday was already 3-0 in his young UFC career, but it wasn't until his last fight, a first round TKO victory over Alex Soto at UFC 139, that fans finally got a glimpse of the talent possessed by McDonald. His reward for that performance? A slot on the main card of UFC 145 opposite former WEC bantamweight champ Miguel Torres. And man did McDonald make the most of the opportunity.
At only 21, this was easily the biggest fight of his career. Hell, it was his first time on the main card in the UFC. He stayed patient against the former champ, darting in and out with successful combination, and then used two perfectly place right uppercuts to put Torres to sleep. It was surely an eye-opening performance for those seeing him fight for the first time, but it only reaffirmed what the rest of us already knew: this guy is a stud. And its not just his KO power. He's good on the ground too, and he's big enough and strong enough, and his wrestling is good enough, to keep the fight upright if he so chooses. I'm not saying he's ready for a title shot, that's a lot to ask of a fighter so young, but with such a dynamic set of skills, such and exciting style, and in a division so starved for contenders, he can't be far off. Renan Barao is in need of a dance partner while Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz settle their score. Beat him half as impressively as he just took out Miguel Torres, and the Cruz-Faber winner will be looking at their next challenger.
In the co-main event was the other young phenom on the card. Rory MacDonald (hmmm... must be something in the name) hadn't fought since last August, injury layoffs being a recurring theme in his early career, but he clearly was spending that time working on his game. Against Che Mills on Saturday, MacDonald was at his best to date. After absorbing a couple of good punches from Mills, MacDonald calmly took him down and out of his element. He passed guard easily, he controlled position completely, and he rained down some of the most accurate and brutal ground-and-pound in the sport. And he did it for two rounds. Mercifully, Mario Yamasaki called and end to the carnage midway through the second round.
Now, look, I realize I have to temper my excitement and expectations over someone dominating Che Mills on the mat, but we've seen MacDonald absolutely demolish his opposition thus far, and yes, that includes interim UFC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit. MacDonald gassed completely in the third, but he was still just seven seconds away from taking home that victory. Since then he tossed around current lightweight contender Nick Diaz like a ragdoll, and gave longtime vet Mike Pyle the, well... let's just call it the "Che Mills treatment" from now on.
Rory MacDonald, despite being a year and a half older than Michael McDonald, finds himself in a more beneficial position within his division. While, skill-wise, he might actually be ready for the very top of the welterweight heap, there's no need to rush him to the title picture right now. Welterweight, as always, is stacked and teeming with guys looking for their "shot." MacDonald is, however, ready for a severe step up in competition. One win over a top-ten opponent would bring the memories of his first two rounds against Condit flooding back quickly. Like Mayday, Rory is only one big win away shoving his foot in the door of the title picture.
On another card, these fights might've stood out more, out from the shadow of the Jon Jones-Rashad Evans spectacle, but it's unlikely they would've been seen by more eyes. Jon Jones may be one of a kind, but he's the torch-bearer for the young, uber-talented fighters coming into the sport right now. It was a nice synergy having the M(a)cDonalds have their breakout performances on a card he headlined.
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