Any questions about Rory MacDonald’s future were answered on Friday night as he retained his Bellator welterweight title with a strong five round performance to hand Neiman Gracie his first professional defeat.
MacDonald showcased a slick striking attack coupled with a dominant ground game to punish Gracie and avoid every submission attempt thrown at him over all 25 minutes they spent in the cage together. Following a hard fought battle, MacDonald was rewarded with a unanimous decision victory with the judges scoring the fight 49-46, 48-47, 48-47 all in his favor.
“I feel pretty good,” MacDonald said with a smile on his face while celebrating the win. “It’s such an honor to be able to compete in an arena like this in New York City. I truly feel blessed to come so far in my career to be fighting for a world championship here in Madison Square Garden.”
MacDonald was able to keep Gracie at a distance throughout the opening round as he worked his jab and made the submission specialist show off his striking skills. To his credit, Gracie landed several stinging kicks that had MacDonald favoring his lead leg as he went to his corner.
Gracie finally got a takedown in the second round and he immediately began fishing for submissions as he went for a heel hook and then locked on a knee bar that had MacDonald in trouble for a moment. MacDonald stayed patient before working his way free and then reversing another takedown attempt to put Gracie on his back.
MacDonald worked a ground and pound attack from the top for the final two minutes with Gracie mostly playing defense to avoid taking any serious damage. It was more of the same in the third round after MacDonald reversed another Gracie takedown attempt to slam him down to the mat.
Gracie did make an attempt at an armbar from the bottom but MacDonald quickly slipped free while maintaining his control on top until the round came to a close.
A similar pattern of events continued through the fourth round and with five minutes remaining, Gracie knew that a finish was the only way he was going to leave Madison Square Garden with the Bellator welterweight title around his waist.
It appeared for a moment that Gracie might pull off the miraculous comeback after taking MacDonald to the ground and moving into mount with four minutes remaining. Gracie did his best to set up an arm triangle choke but MacDonald’s defense was outstanding as he stayed out of trouble and eventually worked himself back into half-guard to avoid further submission attempts.
When it was over, MacDonald knew that he had secured the victory while Gracie, even in defeat, definitely proved he belongs in the upper echelon of the welterweight division.
MacDonald now moves onto the finals of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix where he will face former champion Douglas Lima in a rematch after they first met in January 2018. On that night, MacDonald became Bellator champion with a unanimous decision victory against the Brazilian.
“That’s a toughie but I’m looking forward to it,” MacDonald said about the upcoming rematch against Lima. “Cause it was a close fight. I’m not surprised to meet him in the finals. He’s a true champion and a gentleman and it’s an honor to compete with a guy like that.”
For Lima, the rematch will serve as an opportunity to avenge his prior defeat, win the Grand Prix and take back the Bellator welterweight title.
“That’s what we were waiting for,” Lima said. “Rory’s the champion, he’s a warrior. Two tough fights in this tournament. Can’t wait to get this back and get this rematch going.”