The cerebral attention Rory MacDonald has devoted to his craft, becoming one of the most respected mixed martial arts fighters, also was seen in his surprising decision to defect from the UFC to Bellator MMA.
Betting on himself by fleeing the deeper, more popular stable at the peak fighting age of 27, Canada's MacDonald has the potential to cash in Saturday night at the Forum when he seeks to wrest the Bellator welterweight belt from champion Douglas Lima of Brazil.
"It's a huge opportunity for any fighter to be the face of an organization, just for the exposure value, the star power … and the future negotiations," MacDonald said.
By defeating Lima (29-6), MacDonald (19-4) can tie his business acumen to the claim of being the sport's best welterweight, given that he has a 2014 victory by decision over UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley on his résumé.
One of those especially fond of MacDonald's universal skill set is UFC 1 winner and Bellator ambassador Royce Gracie, who likens MacDonald's cage work to his own.
"As a fighter, he's very calm. He looks like an average guy, not a fighter," Gracie said. "We don't look tough in the streets, but when they shut the cage door, it's a question of knowledge, knowing what you are doing. You don't have to have the messed-up ears or messed-up face. … You just have to know what you're doing."
MacDonald not only knew enough, he was gritty enough to engage in what UFC President Dana White called his organization's "best fight in … forever," a July 2015 welterweight title loss to Robbie Lawler that sent both men to Las Vegas hospital beds.
Lima recognizes the magnitude of the test that awaits Saturday in a Bellator 192 card headlined by the opening bout in the company's eight-fighter heavyweight tournament, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson versus Chael Sonnen.
"He's good standing, he's good on the ground, a good wrestler," Lima said of MacDonald. "That's why he shines: good game plans. I'll hit him as hard as I can from the first second. That will change all the plans he has. I want to finish him. I'm going to leave with the belt."
MacDonald countered: "I don't feel he has enough to take me out. I see myself as a true world champion."
MacDonald said narrowly losing the title shot to Lawler with a badly broken nose was a "wake-up call" to tighten his dedication to the sport. He said he's found joy in married life and raising an 18-month-old child, going to church regularly and training.
"This is the moment I've worked for my entire career," he said. "Over the last two to three years, I'm ready now. I'm in the right place in my life, and hopefully it all pans out."
Achieving the glory of a belt would be a prominent feat in the sport, furthering MacDonald's potential to stand as Example A among fighters that Bellator stands as a viable — not secondary — alternative to those considering a similar career move in free agency.
"Financially, I had a better offer in the first place, but I've also seen some good things from Bellator — the direction it's headed, its passion for top talent. My signing was not a one-off," MacDonald said.
"Fighters see how happy I am, they're curious about how things are run here. There's potential for growth. Although the name recognition may not be there, the talent is here and you've seen that with the guys who've crossed over and had a tough run."
Beyond that, MacDonald — who unveiled a logo Thursday from his sponsor, Everlast, and is aligned with Monster energy drink and the cryptocurrency firm Dash — lauds not being bound to the singular Reebok apparel deal to which UFC fighters must adhere.
"A lot of guys get locked into bad, long-term deals and they don't feel like they're getting compensated for what they give to the company," MacDonald said. "The sponsorship is a huge deal — the freedom to wear what you want and express yourself as a fighter."
And for those who don't feel comfortable verbally expressing themselves like UFC champion Conor McGregor, Bellator's more hard-core MMA audience provides the needed appreciation, MacDonald said.
"UFC has a ton of fighters, a huge stable, and they're always trying to push that marketable guy, the charismatic guy with a lot of hype. Sometimes, they forget about their talent, and some guys with a lot of talent are getting left behind," he said. "Bellator addresses that pretty well."
Main event: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (29-15-1), opening fight of Bellator's heavyweight tournament
When: Television portion of card begins at 6 p.m. Pacific; preliminaries at 3:30 p.m.
Where: The Forum
Television: Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV)
Tickets: Ticketmaster and Forum box office