In a sport traditionally synonymous with beer and motorcycle sponsors, Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald is adding some cutting-edge sizzle.
The 28-year-old mixed martial artist from Kelowna, B.C., will be a walking billboard for cryptocurrency’s Dash Network when he enters the cage Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., to challenge 170-pound champion Douglas Lima (29-6) at Bellator 192.
MacDonald, who fights out of Montreal, has been using and investing in cryptocurrency – digital or virtual currency – since 2014 after being turned onto it by his coach.
“This will be hopefully the first of many sponsorships with Dash and me,” MacDonald said in a recent media conference call.
“It’s not just for me but it’s going to a big opportunity for many other fighters and even Bellator itself … there’s tons of fighters interested in it,” he added.
Pairing up with Dash is one of the reasons MacDonald left the UFC when his contract expired. The UFC, the sport’s largest organization, is far more restrictive when it comes to fighter sponsorships. Fighters have to wear Reebok gear in the cage and share sponsorship dollars according to their ranking.
“It’s been a huge benefit to get sponsors,” MacDonald said of the move to Bellator.
“You get to kind and show a bit of personality also, with not having to wear a uniform. (You get to) work with other companies,” he added. “And with cryptocurrency, there’s so many different possibilities as a fighter now that you can get into these different markets and get yourself out there, other than just being in a cage and wearing a uniform and being like everybody else.”
MacDonald (19-4) won his Bellator debut in May 2017 when he submitted England’s Paul (Semtex) Daly in the second round.
Prior to that he had gone 9-4 in the UFC, losing via fifth-round TKO to then-welterweight champion (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler in a bloody battle at UFC 189 in May 2015. He followed that with a unanimous loss to Stephen Thompson in June 2016 before leaving for Bellator.
Lima defeated Rick Hawn at Bellator 117 in April 2014 to win the vacant Bellator welterweight title, only to lose it in his first title defence against Russian Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 140 in July 2015. The American-based Brazilian knocked out Koreshkov at Bellator 164 in November 2016 to regain the title.
The 30-year-old Lima has since defended his crown, earning a decision over Lorenz Larkin last June.
“His biggest strength is his power. He can hit hard from pretty much anywhere,” MacDonald said. “But I fought a lot of power hitters before and been very successful against those guys so I’m not too stressed about it.”
Tyron (The Chosen One) Woodley is the reigning UFC welterweight champion. MacDonald is the last fighter to beat Woodley, via unanimous decision at UFC 174 in June 2014.
“I already feel like I’m the No. 1 in the world,” said MacDonald. “It’s just getting it down now. We’ll find out Saturday what Douglas is made of. But in my head I’m already No. 1.”
“I plan on going in there being aggressive and taking him out early,” he added.
Saturday’s card also features the first instalment of Bellator’s heavyweight Grand Prix with Quinton (Rampage) Jackson (37-12) taking on Chael Sonnen (30-15-1) in a matchup of former UFC stars.
Jackson-Sonnen will be the main event with MacDonald-Lima second on the card, which will be shown on the new Paramount Network, formerly Spike TV.
The other participants in the Grand Prix are Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Muhammed (King Mo) Lawal, Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione and Bellator light-heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.
The tournament bracket has Emelianenko versus Mir, Mitrione versus Nelson and Bader versus Lawal on future cards.
Sonnen says the storyline for his fight against Jackson, a hard-hitting former UFC light-heavyweight champion, is simple.
“I’ve got one way to win, which is to be on top of him and annoy him for 15 minutes,” he said. “And he’s got one way to win which is to put me to sleep.
“I’ve taken a lot of people down. He’s put a lot of people to sleep. This one isn’t rocket science.”