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Rory MacDonald ready for anything, anyone as PFL switches opponent at last minute

Rory MacDonald takes part in an open workout at the Aberdeen Pavilion on Thursday, June 16, 2016 in Ottawa. In the leadup to Saturday's Professional Fighters League semifinal against unbeaten Magomed Umalatov in Cardiff, Wales, MacDonald pointed to a priority in his training camp. "I think I just needed to keep a more open mind going into my next fight. So I didn't get closed in on a certain game plan." THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

In the leadup to Saturday's Professional Fighters League semifinal against (Prince) Magomed Umalatov in Cardiff, Wales, Canadian welterweight Rory (Red King) MacDonald pointed to a priority in his training camp. 

"I think I just needed to keep a more open mind going into my next fight. So I didn't get closed in on a certain game plan," he said. "That was the biggest thing, a lesson learned in the last fight (a loss to Sweden's Sadibou Sy)."

That advice became even more relevant Thursday when the PFL announced that Umalatov and fellow Russian Denis Goltsov, a heavyweight, could not get into Britain due to visa issues with alternates taking their place on the card.

MacDonald, a 33-year-old B.C. native who fights out of Montreal, will now face American Dilano (The Postman) Taylor, a third-choice replacement. The PFL said the first two alternates, 2018 welterweight champion Magomed Magomedkerimov of Russia and 2019 and 2020 titleholder Ray Cooper III of Hawaii were unable to compete.

MacDonald (23-9-1) and Umalatov (12-0-0) were slated to meet in the main event of the PFL playoff card at Motorpoint Arena, with the winner advancing to the final with the 170-pound title and a US$1-million payday on the line.

Sy (11-6-2 with one no-contest) meets Brazil's Carlos (The Lion) Leal (17-3-0) in the other welterweight semifinal Saturday.

Unlike other MMA promotions, the PFL features a regular season, playoffs and championship across six divisions, each with 10 competitors. The four fighters in each weight class who earn the most regular-season points advance to the playoffs with the two semifinal winners meeting for the championship belt and million-dollar purse.

Taylor (9-2-0) won a split decision over Brazil's Joao Zeferino at PFL 3 on May 6 before losing by second-round TKO to Magomedkerimov at PFL 6 on July 1. Taylor, a former champion in the Titan FC promotion, started the season as an alternate after stopping Mark (Showtime) Martin in February in the PFL Challenger Series.

Taylor weighed in at 169 pounds Friday while MacDonald was 171, the welterweight non-title fight limit.

American Juan (The Kraken) Adams (10-4-0) steps in for Goltsov against Brazil's Matheus Scheffel (16-8-0). Adams was added as an alternate for the second half of the regular season, defeating Australian Sam (K9) Kei via second-round TKO at PFL 5 on June 24.

A veteran of the UFC and Bellator who turned pro at 16, MacDonald is no stranger to the ins and outs of MMA, so the change in opponent represents just another challenge. He was in good spirits, in speaking before the opponent change

"I'm having a good time in Cardiff," said the father of two. "We've got beautiful weather and I'm feeling pretty relaxed. I'm in a good head space."

The six-foot-three Sy won a unanimous decision over MacDonald at PFL 6, using his height and length to good advantage. 

"I'm disappointed about it," MacDonald said of his performance. "I felt like I didn't show the best of my abilities."

MacDonald opened his season with a first-round submission win over American Brett (Fudoshin) Cooper at PFL 3.

Despite the loss to Sy, MacDonald emerged as the top seed in the welterweight class thanks to the extra points earned in his stoppage win over Brett Cooper. Umalatov was the fourth seed.

MacDonald lost to Ray Cooper in last year's semifinal. He said last year's experience taught him to have a better pace in his training camp, which he has split between Montreal and Austin, Texas, in recent fights.

MacDonald is a fan of Austin, where he works with former UFC fighter Tim Kennedy.

MacDonald joined the PFL in December 2019 but had to wait until last year to make his debut after the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic. He is 2-3-0 in the PFL, with the other loss in 2021 to Gleison Tibau, a split decision which most observers thought the split decision should have gone the other way.  

(The Canadian Gangster) Olivier Aubin-Mercier has already advanced to the PFL lightweight final after winning a unanimous decision over Paraguay's Alex Martinez last Friday.

The 33-year-old from Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Que., will face Scotland's Stevie (Braveheart) Ray for the 155-pound title.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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