I just moved into a new apartment and in so doing decided to upgrade my cable package to include a few more channels than just the basics. In addition to being able to watch pretty much anything I could ever want at any time (and realizing that all of the music I listen to now falls into the “Classic” or “Retro” music category), I now have a DVR for the first time.

I’ve only had the new cable package for about a week, but already I’m wondering why I waited so long to get a DVR. The convenience of being able to set recordings for future programs and then be able to watch them whenever I want is something that a TV junkie like myself can use to the maximum. This is particularly true when it comes to programming that my fianceé might not want to watch when it’s on live.

On Sunday, I used the newly acquired DVR to record the UFC’s latest pre-fight special, UFC on Fox 8: Road to the Octagon, which I then watched early Monday morning. The program highlighted three of this Saturday’s four main-card fights, with camera crews following each of the six participating fighters around in training camp and in their personal lives in the weeks leading up to the UFC’s eighth offering on Fox. The special—which featured probably the highest level of production value UFC fans have seen in a pre-fight program—was 40-plus minutes of insider footage that was meant to provide additional promotion for the fights and entice new and returning fans to tune in on Saturday.

Of course, the night’s flyweight title contest between champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga got the majority of the airtime, with the UFC and Fox both wanting to introduce the world to two of the best, if also two of the smallest, fighters on the planet. I didn’t know much about Moraga before watching the Road to the Octagon special, and while I’ll take nothing away from Demetrious Johnson, Moraga is going to give the champion all he can handle on Saturday night.

The most engrossing segments of Sunday’s special, however, belonged to the fighters in Saturday’s co-main event. The intrigue and importance of a title fight will always launch it to the top of any card, but the welterweight fight between Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger is just as much of a draw for fans wanting to tune in to UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga.

In what is probably the best non-title fight put on by the UFC in quite some time, the third-ranked MacDonald squares off against the man ranked directly underneath him. MacDonald understandably has a lot of hype behind him going into his match on Saturday. He’s 14-1 and has defeated each of his last four opponents, finishing two inside the distance. In his most recent fight, he dominated former pound-for-pound stalwart B.J. Penn from bell to bell, making the surefire UFC Hall of Famer look like a shell of his former self. Many consider MacDonald to be the heir apparent to current UFC welterweight champion (and MacDonald training partner) Georges St-Pierre, and he has certainly shown the skills to make that happen.

What I found most interesting about MacDonald’s portion of the UFC’s preview was how much time was focused on his activities outside the gym. In the opening shot of his segment, MacDonald is shown not wearing gloves and sparring in a cage in Montreal, but instead wearing a flashy-looking suit and meeting with a designer in New York. MacDonald made mention of needing to make sure the business side of his career was in order, and there’s certainly no harm in doing so. MMA fighters, particularly those with MacDonald’s demonstrated skills, can become wealthy people in 2013, and it’s smart for those fighters to ensure that life outside the Octagon will be just as fruitful as life inside it.

Perhaps this is simply the product of clever editing by Fox, and there’s no doubt that MacDonald spends the majority of his life training for his fights, but the program on Sunday did seem to make a bit of an assumption that MacDonald would definitely be the UFC’s next 170-pound champion, and therefore he needs to be prepared for the level of success he’s going to have in the future. MacDonald has earned his position among the UFC’s welterweight elite, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. He’s still relatively young at 24 and will face in Ellenberger just his second top-10 opponent, so talk of future fame is still premature.

Contrast MacDonald’s segment with those of Ellenberger, who seemed to do little else but train. Save for a little motocross (which, if we’re being honest, should probably be barred from the list of activities in which an active UFC title contender can participate), Ellenberger was in the gym in California with fellow UFC fighter Mark Muñoz, and if he wasn’t there, he was training with Jeff Mayweather (of the fighting Mayweathers) to improve his boxing, an area that has in the past been seen as a weak spot in his game. Again, perhaps this was the story Fox wanted to tell, but it seemed that Ellenberger was not so concerned with the trappings of fame that could come with being a champion. He was only concerned about winning.

In some ways, MacDonald is a younger version of Ellenberger. Both carried impressive regional records into their UFC debuts and both would lose to Carlos Condit early in their promotional tenures to somewhat set back their careers. After his loss to Condit in his first UFC fight, Ellenberger would go on to win his next six fights and be set up against Martin Kampmann with a possible title shot on the line. Ellenberger’s success train would be derailed that night by Kampmann, an older fighter with more UFC experience. You probably see where I’m going with this.

MacDonald lost to Condit in his second UFC outing and has since won four straight fights. In Ellenberger, MacDonald finds himself fighting an older man with more UFC experience with a possible title shot on the line. Could Saturday be the night that things come full circle for Ellenberger?

The betting lines generally favor MacDonald, but not by a lot. That’s probably accurate, given the ease with which MacDonald has dispatched his recent opponents, but one would not be out of one’s mind to place his or her money instead on the underdog. Out of all the young fighters on the UFC’s roster, few could match MacDonald when it comes to the expectations people have of him. What’s important to remember, though, is that MacDonald is still in the first half of his career, so if he happens to lose on Saturday, he needs to look no further than his opponent as an example of how to keep moving forward.

Photo: Jake Ellenberger (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.