The main event of Bellator 222 is an interesting stylistic clash. Will the well-rounded skill set of Rory Macdonald prevail, or will jiu-jitsu virtuoso Neiman Gracie add yet another submission victory to his record?
On April 27th, Rory Macdonald made it through to the next round of Bellator’s welterweight tournament despite earning a majority draw on the scorecards against Jon Fitch. The bout was hard to score, given Macdonald landed the much more effective strikes on the feet – yet conceded long periods of positional control on the mat.
One thing is for certain: Jon Fitch is not easy to look good against. Even at 41-years-of-age, Fitch is a tenacious workhorse that can wrestle hard for five rounds. While Macdonald faces another grappler on Friday night, Neiman Gracie doesn’t possess anywhere near the same wrestling ability as Fitch (although he’s much more dangerous on the mat).
The most worrying part of Macdonald’s last bout was the post-fight interview, where it sounded like he’d fallen out of love with inflicting violence on his fellow man. Macdonald is an elite combat athlete, but I question where his head is at before this contest.
Compared to Neiman Gracie, Rory Maconald’s most similar opponent in his career thus far was Demian Maia. Despite spending the majority of round one on his back, he defended excellently and didn’t allow Maia to mount any meaningful offense. In rounds two and three, Macdonald was able to defend most of Maia’s takedowns and tee off on the feet.
If this stays standing, the Canadian should put on a clinic. Gracie throws a lot of naked leg kicks that can be countered with straight shots and doesn’t really have the power to get Macdonald’s respect.
As his last name suggests, Gracie is a wizard on the mat. Although he hasn’t faced the highest level of competition, he’s looked several steps ahead of all opponents during ground exchanges. Defeating guys like Roger “The Leprechaun” Carroll is all well and good, but eventually you’ve got to take a step up in class.
Gracie’s best opponent to date was Ed Ruth, a three-time NCAA Division I national champion in folkstyle wrestling. While Gracie never stopped hunting for submissions throughout the contest, Ruth didn’t show the best fight IQ or cardio. Unlike Rory Macdonald, Ruth didn’t have a significant advantage over Gracie on the feet – so welcomed the grappling exchanges.
I don’t think Gracie is the best wrestler, but he’s still been effective at dragging fights to the mat. When he ties up, he can weasel his way to back mount from a standing position or just drag you to the floor because he doesn’t care if he winds up on bottom. That’s cool, but I’m not sure if he’s going to have success in grounding Macdonald – who has a great sprawl and is a high level grappler in his own right.
Whatever approach he takes, Gracie cannot hang out in open space for too long. Even if Macdonald’s brain is out to lunch and he’s not 100% focused, his striking ability is far beyond Gracie’s.
On paper, I believe this fight is favorable for Macdonald. The Canadian needs to treat the mat like hot lava, stuff takedowns and get into an offensive groove on the feet. He’s absolutely capable of doing this, I’m just concerned about his mental state.
His Instagram page is full of happy family pictures and quotes from the Bible. Is he really in the right mindframe to go and jab some dude’s face off inside a steel cage? I don’t know, but I am a gambling man.
Macdonald’s moneyline is currently -160, which entails an implied probability of 61.5%. Even with the concerns about him, I’d cap his chances of winning around the 70-75% range.
It’s always sketchy betting against a guy that can pull a submission out of thin air, but when there’s clear value on the fighter with a stylistically favorable match-up – I’m happy to take the bet.
Pick: Rory Macdonald -160
Check out my betting predictions for UFC Fight Night 154.