All it took was one bad night for Ryan MacDonald to lose his perfect record.
The bantamweight prospect compiled a strong resume on the regional circuit, and after earning his 10th victory without any defeats, he found himself firmly on the UFC’s radar.
Once he did get the call to compete on a UFC card, MacDonald wasn’t quite ready for battle, but he definitely wasn’t going to turn the promotion down.
“It was one of those things, opportunities you can’t really pass up on,” MacDonald told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock.
MacDonald knew that the conditions weren’t ideal when he accepted the fight against Chris Gutierrez at UFC Nashville.
“I was dealing with some back issues and I had just turned down a couple of fights for LFA, you know, a couple in a row,” MacDonald said. “Then my back got to the point where I was training consistently again, and then I got the call for that and I was just like, I think we’re gonna, you know, we’re going to do it.”
Ultimately, the hastiness of the process came back to bite the 26-year-old fighter.
“It was just all kind of taking in too much all at once,” MacDonald said. “No excuses. I mean, I went out there and I showed a lot of heart. I fought my ass off, but it’s just one of those things when you sacrifice so much, like 100% of the time and … you’re in crunch time essentially, you know, it’s just stressful. And when you go into a fight with a lot of stress that can just throw you out of your game.
“I didn’t feel like I flowed. I was really embarrassed of the performance I put in because like it looked nothing like I’ve looked before, you know. It was probably my worst performance to date, but it was at the highest level.”
Ryan MacDonald on bouncing back
The goal has since been shifted for MacDonald. Now, he’s focused on making sure he puts on a performance he can be proud of once he looks back on it.
The bantamweight was sidelined for a short period of time after his unanimous decision loss to Gutierrez. The gash on his forehead was the most visible injury, but MacDonald’s back and shin also needed time to rehabilitate.
He didn’t take too much time off, though.
“Honestly, I jumped right back into the next week as far as sparring,” MacDonald said. “When you have a small, tight-knit team, you can get away with stuff like that. Guys can take care of each other a lot more, and it’s not all about winning.”
MacDonald was eager to return to training at Rise Combat Sports. His first training camp after making the move to Arizona lasted roughly a week. In that time, MacDonald was meeting his coaches and teammates for the first time while simultaneously preparing for his short-notice UFC debut.
Now that he is able to take full advantage of what the new gym has to offer, MacDonald is seeing the results.
“It’s like the difference between having something brand new and having something used, you know what I mean?” MacDonald said. “It’s just that simple. It’s awesome, you know. You don’t have to have to worry about crunching all your sparring into literally one week.”
Ryan MacDonald vs. Louis Smolka
MacDonald’s upcoming opponent at UFC Vancouver comes with a bit more name value than his last.
Once a contender at flyweight, Louis Smolka is now competing in his second tenure with the UFC. He was cut following a string of four-straight losses but has since battled his way back onto the roster and is currently fighting at 135 pounds.
“He’s got that big name and he’s another one of those guys that he’s been around forever,” MacDonald said. “But you know, he’s like my age. He’s like 27 or something. So I mean it’s really cool because I’ve watched him for a long time.”
MacDonald’s last opponent had just one fight in the UFC prior to their bout, which meant that there wasn’t a lot of tape for MacDonald to study. For this fight with Smolka, that’s not a problem.
Not only is Smolka a 12-fight UFC veteran, but he has also gone toe-to-toe with a close ally of MacDonald. Chris Cariaso, one of MacDonald’s coaches at Rise Combat Sports, shared the cage with Smolka in 2014. Cariaso handed “Da Last Samurai” the first professional loss of his career by way of split decision.
The familiarity with the opponent is one thing. Having the time to get settled in the gym for his second training camp is what makes MacDonald confident that his first UFC win will come on Saturday night.
“It’s a full camp. I’ve been training for 10 weeks,” MacDonald said. “I’ve known about this fight for 10 weeks, so, you know, it’s literally double the camp I had from my last one, so it’s been awesome.”
Thoughts on the bantamweight division
Like any UFC fighter does, MacDonald has his eyes on the top of his division. Even though he is still carving a home for himself within the promotion, it’s hard to avoid news about flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo’s antics.
MacDonald is a fan of the character that Cejudo has created. Whether he’s calling out female fighters like Valentina Shevchenko or Weili Zhang or engaging in other bizarre hijinks, Cejudo’s act has won MacDonald over.
MacDonald also got the chance to get to know the real Cejudo in the gym.
“I just met him at Fight Ready the other day, and he was a cool dude,” MacDonald said. “He had a lot of good tips and tricks. He wasn’t worried about adding to anybody’s game, which is really cool.”
Cejudo is currently recovering from injury, and the UFC has expressed interest in having him first defend his flyweight belt against Joseph Benavidez, so there is plenty of room for a possible interim title in the near future.
MacDonald hopes to one day compete against the upper echelon, but for now, he has a fight in mind to determine the next challenger for Cejudo’s 135-pound belt.
“I’d like to see Cory Sandhagen against Petr Yan,” MacDonald said. I don’t know if they’re ready for a title yet because they haven’t really got that win, those performances that people are like really high on them about or beat like a really big name to get them the big name, but those two, I think that would be a hell of a fight for sure.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.