UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson takes place on Saturday, June 18th at the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Ontario (10:30PM/7:30PM ETPT). Below you will find: “Warmup” (now posted), in which I briefly introduce the event, highlight select fighters and fights, and discuss the significance of these bouts for their respective weight divisions; “Preview“, in which I react to the official weigh-ins (June 17th, 5PM/2PM ETPT) after they have concluded, offer select fight predictions (only for fights whose competitors I have watched compete, respectively, in the past), and discuss the dangers each fighter poses to their opponent, technically, athletically and otherwise; “Review“, in which I react next-day (June 19th) to the event, its outcomes, the post-fight press conference (June 18th, start time depending on duration of fight card) and—for fun—score the experience out of 50 (the same point total as a five round fight). Weigh-in and post-fight press conference can be streamed live directly from this page.
Please feel welcome to engage myself and other commenters in the comments section beneath this post before, during and after the event. Share your predictions, your reactions, and, if so inclined, your own score for the night—in whatever sum you wish. These write-ups are done for fun, and out of love and excitement for the sport; I look forward to interacting with you in that same spirit. ⊗
Despite not being a numbered UFC event, Fight Night 89‘s main event has the potential to be the best fight of the year, and one of the most consequential. On paper, this is owed to the title-contention rankings of both Rory “Red King” MacDonald and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in the welterweight division—MacDonald at #1 and Thompson at #2. Perhaps even more importantly, though, is what respective future a win or loss will potentiate for MacDonald’s future as a fighter: a win putting him into inarguable booking for a title shot (the welterweight champion at present being Robbie Lawler—MacDonald’s most recent opponent, title fight, and loss alike; a loss putting him into either free agency or no agency in relation to the UFC. Both of which, in my opinion, will have just as much impact on the organization (and division) as on the Red King himself.
Directly preceding this match-up is, also at welterweight, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone versus Patrick “The Predator” Côté. Cerrone, who formerly fought at lightweight, is coming off his successful 170lb debut after submitting Alex Oliveira (ring-name also “Cowboy”) via triangle choke this past February. Patrick Côté, meanwhile, is three for three in his recent sequence of fights, with the last two of these won via TKO (technical knock-out) stoppage. Then, earlier in the night, to kick-off the main card, Valérie Létourneau (Canadian as is MacDonald and Côté) meets Scottish Muay Thai fighter Joanne Calderwood in the first ever women’s flyweight bout. UFC Fight Night 89 itself claims a “first” as the first-ever UFC event in Ottawa, and promises to be seminal thereto.
To be posted June 17th after weigh-ins (5PM/2PM ETPT)
If I had any surviving faith in predictable fight outcomes, I would place it in either Thompson’s ability to camouflage his kicks or MacDonald’s ability to take them strategically, accepting some measure of damage in the pocket in order to bring Thompson into a range which, arguably, plays more to MacDonald’s strengths than Thompson’s. From this range, Thompson’s wide, sideways karate stance—in which he wields his right leg as defensive distancing tool as much as versatile, unpredictable weapon—is entirely negated; and while he doubtless has excellent boxing as well, part of this excellence comes from his ability to enter and exit his opponent’s range with incredible speed and, again, unpredictable timing. MacDonald flourishes most in this (for many fighters) uncomfortably close range, which we saw on unambiguous display in his 189 war with Lawler, his elbowing accuracy and ferocity synthesized perhaps only second to current interim light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. He is also an excellent wrestler with ruthless ground and pound and a formidable submission game.
But if this assessment seems heavily weighted in MacDonald’s favour, it is likely because I’ve understated just how wonderous a striker “Wonderboy” is. Setting aside the pronounced improvement he’s shown in his takedown defense, his striking really is what levels the scales here and makes this match-up so breathlessly intriguing. As strong as Rory is as a striker in his own right, Wonderboy’s transmutations will almost certainly render several of Rory’s go-to’s, such as his snapping front kick to the chin (which he often modifies on the fly into a winding abdomen strike), effectively useless. As frighteningly, wounded-wolverine tenacious as MacDonald can become, this fight will be a game of chess for both fighters. Betraying my biases here a bit, I genuinely adore both of these men, and—as is sometimes inevitable in mixed martial arts—find this match-up painfully bittersweet; nevertheless, I am ultimately routing for MacDonald, who might already have been champion if his nose hadn’t shattered five rounds deep into a title fight he was winning (close as it was, albeit), and hope his chess tomorrow night becomes a game of a (prospective) throne—the Red King not only ‘king of the north’, but of welterweight. He might, however, have to suffer a few welts to get there.
The co-main event is also rather nebulous, for me. Though here, at least, I have a prediction: Patrick Côté by TKO. Why? Because despite Cerrone’s striking talents (particularly with kicks), and his submission fluidity, such as he employed to triangle choke Oliveira to victory, Côté has a notoriously durable chin (he’s never been knocked out despite competing in the promotion since 2002) and, as proven by his locking in an armbar on Ben Saunders off of his back, will be as little a pushover off his feet as on them. He likely also has a strength and power advantage, meaning Cerrone may have a damned hard time keeping him horizontal. The UFC’s matchmakers have created what seems, from my pre-fight vantage, to be an impressively even contest. All the same, I expect Côté’s power, in combination with his aforementioned well-roundedness and his lack of an ability (or willingness, it’s hard to say) to daydream, to make the difference. A win herein propelling him closer to the rank—and possibly even the winner, down the road—of tomorrow’s main event.
Apologies for a lack of Létourneau here, but I have, frankly, not yet seen Joanne Calderwood in action. Bias again exposed: I’m very much pulling for the Canadian tomorrow; she made me an instant fan for the amazing heart and mental fortitude she showed in her strawweight title fight with the Polish muay thai phenom Joanna Jędrzejczyk last November. Like Calderwood now, I’d not seen her fight prior to that event, but this fact is hours away from changing. My review for UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson on Sunday, June 19th, will, consequently, include performance notes on them both. Enjoy the fights, everyone!
To be posted June 19th
While UFC 200 would have been a tidily obvious starting point to begin my MMA events coverage, I opted for this Ottawa card instead for two reasons: one being that I’d just moved to the city, and thought the UFC’s first-ever event here would represent an even more logical ground zero; but also because, originally, before the event sold out in a flash of local lightning, I thought I would be viewing in person. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t—not because it wasn’t a quality card, but because I would have been embarrassed to be among those booing throughout Rory and Stephen’s five-round, technically fascinating chess match. Ottawa’s MMA “fans” collectively succumbed to an attention deficit, it seems, as soon as they realized The Red King’s return wouldn’t be the barbed trench-warfare of his prior fight last July. MMA is still a young sport, and it appears that some audiences (though mercifully few now) still have a lot of growing up to do.
Sometimes, the physical pace of a fight—the raw locomotion of it—slows without the contest itself slowing: the moments between commitments on the part of one or both fighters filled to overflowing with calculation, and the often subtle muscular nascences which begin such commitments to strike, shoot for the takedown, or otherwise. MacDonald vs. Thompson was this kind of fight, and it was beautiful to watch. MacDonald’s first Imanari roll attempt in round one lent his offense an air of creative unpredictability early on, at least in terms of grappling. Thompson’s offense on the feet, meanwhile, was as unpredictable and blitszy as always: switch kicks, spinning back kicks, the works. One aspect of this fight I didn’t anticipate enough going in, for which I have little excuse in hindsight, was Thompson’s speed advantage; not just his darting in and out of range as mentioned in my preview, but his hand speed outright. Even with feet planted, Thompson’s fists darted around MacDonald’s like wasps. MacDonald landed several clean shots of his own in the fight, but proportionally few. Most of the fight, for MacDonald, was spent simultaneously walking Thompson down and failing to find an answer once he got into preferred range.
Thompson’s elusiveness comes not just from his eluding his opponent but through his ability to abruptly turn on the heat, boxing-wise, as soon as a clinch situation arises: he unloads several short, taut cracks to his opponent’s face and collar area, using the extension of his arms during the last of these strikes to push himself away and back into kicking range (Wonderboy needs much less room than other, less talented kickboxers). By the end of the penultimate round, Thompson had established the chess match, on the feet at least, to be over. It may sound paradoxical, then, to say that The Red King’s best offensive moves came in this round—Thompson being caught with a notable right hook, in particular, and a horizontal elbow to the brow-line. Nevertheless, it seemed Rory’s only viable option for the final round would be takedowns, but because Thompson had already successfully defended them throughout the preceding rounds, this option was only promising for Rory because it was still, unfortunately, more promising than the alternatives.
As a way to brute force his way into closer range, MacDonald had, midfight, begun to walk straight towards Thompson with his arms shielding alternating sides of his head—but while this strategy allowed him his significant strikes in round five, it led to counter-strikes, one of which re-broke MacDonald’s nose and fauceted blood down his torso and legs. This, really, was the early bell-toll of Thompson’s unanimous decision.
Before (and including) this main event, Canadian fighters reaped a mix of wins and losses through the night. Randa Markos, Elias Theodorou, Misha Cirkunov, Jason Saggo, Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Steve Bossé all left victorious. But, much more so than MacDonald, the two other Canadians who didn’t didn’t in ugly fashion: Létourneau, who I wanted to win, was finished on her feet after a series of body blows, wardrobe and officiating bizarrities (though like seemingly few commenters, I can understand the referee’s confusions during that bout); Côté, who I not only wanted but thought would win, was dominated, nearly finished twice, and eventually finished for real by a more impressive Cerrone than I’ve personally ever seen.
Côté is now one for two in his past two fights, and I’m sure we’ll see him collect another win soon, but I’m worried for Létourneau. She’s zero for two, both losses brutal but this latest one humiliating also. I don’t know where she goes from here, as she’s now lost in two distinct weight-classes, but any succession of losses this devastating does not bode well for her future. Physical toll aside, where and how will she find the confidence going into her next fight? The last thing she’ll need is more turbulence after these past eight months, but I’m not sure how she will possibly find a way to avoid it.
These stings aside, UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson was an excellent night of fighting capped off by one of the most intriguing—and therefore enigmatic—match-ups we’ve ever seen. And unlike the audience in attendance, if you avoided sketching out a silhouette for it ahead of time, you probably enjoyed it as much as I did. It wasn’t the UFC at its best (such as, recently, UFC 189 and 199), but it had moments which were—and really, that’s no injuring criticism.