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Rory MacDonald provided answers to the questions swirling around him, and he did so at Neiman Gracie’s expense.
Less than two months after he fought a 41-year-old Jon Fitch to a draw and questioned whether or not he had the competitive drive to move forward with his career, MacDonald retained the undisputed Bellator MMA welterweight championship with a unanimous decision over Gracie in the Bellator 222 headliner on Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Tristar Gym star swept the scorecards with 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 marks from the judges, though the distance between champion and challenger felt much wider.
MacDonald pumped a consistent jab, occasionally paired it with a clubbing right hand and dared to engage the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on the mat. Gracie fired off a few submission attempts -- a second-round kneebar was somewhat alarming for the Canadian’s supporters -- but mostly failed to give the “Red King” pause and instead absorbed copious amounts of ground-and-pound. MacDonald never flirted with a finish but still made his intentions known: He has no plans to relinquish his throne anytime soon.
Having registered his first victory in more than a year, MacDonald now turns his attention to a rematch with former champion Douglas Lima in the Bellator welterweight grand prix final later this year. The two men first met at Bellator 192, where MacDonald was awarded a unanimous decision in January 2018.
In the aftermath of Bellator 222 “MacDonald vs. Gracie,” here are four other matches that ought to be made:
Juan Archuleta vs. Kyoji Horiguchi or Patricio Freire: Archuleta added a riveting piece of footage to his highlight reel, as he knocked out Eduardo Dantas in the second round of their featherweight showcase. Dantas melted 4:59 into Round 2. Archuleta found another gear after a competitive first five minutes, opened a cut on the Brazilian’s left eyelid and staggered him with a short but powerful right hand. His situation growing increasingly dire, Dantas pursued the former King of the Cage champion to the fence late in the second round, let his guard down and ran into a counter right hook that sent him crashing to the canvas in an unconscious heap. On an 18-fight winning streak, Archuleta has emerged as a serious threat in two weight classes. Horiguchi laid claim to the bantamweight title with a unanimous decision over Darrion Caldwell in the fight preceding Archuleta-Dantas, while Freire has held sway over the 145-pound weight class since April 21, 2017.
Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi-Rafael Lovato Jr. winner: Even at an advanced age, Machida remains an intriguing figure in mixed martial arts. “The Dragon,” less than a month after celebrating his 41st birthday, brought down Chael Sonnen with a flying knee and follow-up punches in the second round of their light heavyweight co-main event. Sonnen bowed out 22 seconds into Round 2, then announced his retirement. Machida has rattled off four straight wins since he suffered consecutive defeats to Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson between April 18, 2015 and Oct. 28, 2017. His momentum and star power make him a likely title contender in the coming months. Mousasi, who lost a unanimous decision to Machida under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner in 2014, will defend the Bellator middleweight championship against the undefeated Lovato on June 22 in London.
Patrick Mix vs. James Gallagher: Mix improved to 11-0 and dazzled in his promotional debut, as the former King of the Cage champion submitted Ricky Bandejas with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their bantamweight feature. Bandejas raised the white flag 66 seconds into Round 1. Operating out of the powerhouse Jackson-Wink MMA camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the 25-year-old Mix has secured seven of his 11 wins by submission, five of them by rear-naked choke. He instantly becomes a person of interest in Bellator’s 135-pound weight class and has already taken aim at Gallagher, the brash SBG Ireland export who collides with Jeremiah Labiano at Bellator London “Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr.” on June 22 in London.
Adam Borics vs. John Teixeira da Conceicao: The undefeated Borics became the latest fighter to use Aaron Pico as a steppingstone, as he blew up the hyped prospect with a flying knee and follow-up punches in the second round of their featherweight attraction. Pico met his end 3:55 into Round 2. Taken down and stifled for much of the first five minutes, Borics waded through considerable difficulty and sprang into action when the opportunity presented itself. Now 9-0 and no longer flying under the radar at 145 pounds, the 25-year-old Hungarian has finished his past five opponents. Nova Uniao’s Conceicao last appeared at Bellator 218 in March, when he snapped a three-fight losing streak by outpointing journeyman Kevin Croom across three rounds.