It has been said that Rory MacDonald is the next big thing in the welterweight division. Now, just three fights and two years removed from his first career loss, MacDonald is staring at his biggest challenge yet—former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn.

Penn has been out of commission since he took a beating at the hands of Nick Diaz last October and proclaimed after the fight that it would be his last.

Since then, Penn has been offered a shot at Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and a fight against Josh Koscheck. In both fights, Penn would have returned to prominence.

Was Penn not willing to cut down to 155 for a fight with Melendez? I don’t think so. Granted a win over Melendez would prove something to fans that Penn does still have it, but you also have those fans who would say Melendez is overrated or that even winning the Strikeforce lightweight title means virtually nothing.

So why go back and win a title in an organization with its future always in question and that gains little respect from fans?

As for Koscheck, that would have been a tough fight and would have made sense for Penn. A win over Koscheck would have put him back into the upper echelons of the UFC welterweight division. So why decline a fight with Koscheck?

The reasoning is actually pretty simple: because, unlike Koscheck, MacDonald trains at Tri-Star in Montreal. Also training at Tri-Star is current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. GSP holds two wins over Penn in the UFC. Penn wants to take a shot and finally get a win over a Tri-Star product as he said in an interview with Just Scrap Radio.

Makes sense if you think about it. Plus, why not come back for one final fight where if you win, you beat one of the fastest rising young fighters in the division? And if you lose? Well, you lost to perhaps the future champion of the division and there is no shame in that, right? Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

This fight isn’t as big for Penn as it is for MacDonald, though. In fact, this is huge for the 22-year-old Canadian prospect. Since his loss to Carlos Condit, MacDonald has ran through every opponent the UFC has thrown at him.

He dominated Nate Diaz through three rounds—and even tossed him around like he weighed virtually nothing—on his way to a unanimous decision win. He dominated Mike Pyle in the first round of action and was instantly catapulted to the status of the hottest prospect the UFC had in its arsenal. Then, his lopsided victory over Che Mills proved that MacDonald was beyond the middle tier of fighters in the UFC and could handle the best the division had to offer.

MacDonald wants that rematch with Condit. He wants to avenge that loss in a fight he could have potentially won if it wasn’t for a last-second TKO. With a win over Penn, he has one big-name victory to help push him further into the title picture.

That is what MacDonald needs—a name to help build his resume to solidify himself as a title contender.

For both fighters, this fight makes a lot of sense for their respective careers. Penn seems to realize his championship days are behind him, so having a fight with a young guy like MacDonald gives him the chance to get a big win to close out his career on a particularly high note. With a loss, he can close out his contract with the UFC, officially retire and say he gave it his all against a fighter people peg to be the eventual champ.

In MacDonald’s case, a loss sets him back a little bit, but tells him, “Hey, you’re not ready for the big show yet and you’ve got some learning to do.” And with a win, he shoots up near the top in a crowded welterweight division.

The biggest winner out of this, though, is the fans because, hey, we get to witness a future star and top fighter face a former champion, star and legend in MMA.

Photo: Rory MacDonald (top) dominated at UFC 145 (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.