David Mindel, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Rory MacDonald
- Bellator Welterweight Champion Rory MacDonald (-170) is looking move forward from a string of disappointing performances.
- Prospect Neiman Gracie (+140) hopes to score another upset victory as he makes a name for himself in Bellator's Welterweight World Grand Prix.
Bellator Betting Odds: Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie
- Rory MacDonald Odds: -170
- Neiman Gracie Odds: +140
- Date: Friday, June 14
- Fight Time: Approx. 12:30 a.m., ET
- TV: DAZN
At Bellator 222, the promotion will conclude the semi-finals of its Welterweight World Grand Prix. Initially considered a front-runner to win the tournament, current champion Rory MacDonald has had a rough go of it lately.
After winning the Bellator Welterweight World Championship from Douglas Lima in January 2018, MacDonald challenged middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi. The Canadian wound up on the receiving end of a vicious TKO.
His next time out, in what was the quarterfinals of this tournament, MacDonald narrowly escaped with his belt. The “Red King” drew against Jon Fitch, a man over 10 years his senior. Per MMA Decisions, 60% (9/15) of media members scored the fight for Rory.
Neiman Gracie is riding an opposite wave of momentum. The 30-year-old took a big step up in competition in his quarterfinal matchup against highly-decorated wrestler Ed Ruth. Despite entering as a +315 underdog, Gracie threatened with his grappling throughout the entire fight and eventually submitted Ruth in the fourth round.
When this tournament was first announced, MacDonald would’ve been considered a massive favorite in this fight. The former UFC title challenger was considered to be a level above the unproven Gracie.
Now, with MacDonald on a skid and Gracie looking better with every fight, this semi-final bout is a close one.
However, none of that matters once the cage door closes on Friday night. Let’s dive in and see each man’s path to victory (and to the finals).
Rory MacDonald’s Path to Victory
Currently considered by Tapology to be the No. 27 welterweight in the world, Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) is at a crossroads in his career.
When he made his professional MMA debut back in 2005, then 16-year-old MacDonald made waves on the regional scene. By the time he reached the UFC, the Canadian was heralded as the face of the next era of MMA prospects.
MacDonald was touted as an MMA native, someone who grew up training in MMA rather than being an import from a different sport (e.g., wrestling or boxing). Now, entering the 27th fight of his professional career, MacDonald has established himself as one of the most well-rounded fighters in the welterweight division.
On the feet MacDonald is a Tristar fighter to the core. Like Georges St-Pierre before him, MacDonald favors the jab and is a patient, methodical striker. Rory relies heavily on his boxing and focuses mostly on head strikes.
MacDonald is also more than capable of taking the fight to the ground. Against Douglas Lima, he showed impressive takedown ability and still had the energy to utilize his wrestling in the fifth round of a grueling fight.
From top position, the “Red King” focuses primarily on control and ground-and-pound. MacDonald is capable of submitting his opponents but only has one submission finish since 2010.
The Tristar product’s fighting style is distinguished by his ability to take the fight where his opponent is weakest. With coach Firas Zahabi in his corner, MacDonald always comes with the right approach.
Against Douglas Lima – a powerful striker – MacDonald focused on pressuring his opponent, shooting for takedowns, and securing top control. Against a dogged wrestler in Jon Fitch, MacDonald emphasized staying at boxing range and avoiding clinch and wrestling positions.
This time out, MacDonald’s path to victory is straightforward. The Canadian champion should keep the fight on the feet. He’s a superior striker to Gracie and will likely be able to easily outbox Gracie for 25 minutes.
MacDonald must avoid clinch positions and grappling as much as possible. Even in top position, MacDonald is in danger. The benefits of securing a takedown are far outweighed by the risks.
Neiman Gracie’s Path to Victory
For Neiman Gracie (9-0), it’s all in the name. A fourth-generation member of the legendary Gracie family, the 30-year-old is a second degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Gracie’s plan of attack is straightforward; nobody has been able to stop it yet. He’s 7-0 in Bellator with six submissions (tied for most in Bellator history).
The No. 85 welterweight in the world per Tapology, Gracie likes to initiate contact by any means necessary. He looks for takedowns both in the clinch and at range, but will accept (and sometimes pursue) bottom position if it ensures he’ll wind up in a grappling exchange with his opponent.
Gracie is a world-class threat off his back, constantly hunting for submissions and refusing his opponents a modicum of rest. His grappling is even more potent when Gracie can secure a dominant position such as back mount.
Striking isn’t Gracie’s forte, but he’s competent on the feet and has been improving between fights. He likes single strikes, especially the body kick, and has power in his right hand.
Still, there’s no confusion about what Gracie will look to do here. The jiu-jitsu fighter will aim to stay safe on the feet, initiate clinch & grappling exchanges, and keep the fight on the ground at all costs.
The X-Factor: Rory MacDonald’s Well-Being
The big unknown of this fight is the state of Rory MacDonald.
In MacDonald’s post-fight interview after the Fitch fight, the Canadian admitted that it was harder to hurt people due to his newfound connection with religion. While I wish the best for MacDonald on a personal level, that’s not conducive to being a champion mixed martial artist.
Physically, MacDonald hasn’t been the same since the second Robbie Lawler fight. In that historically hellacious bout, MacDonald fell via fifth-round TKO when his face more or less caved in. Since then, MacDonald has been notably reticent to striking exchanges. In the Mousasi fight, MacDonald appeared to still be suffering from the physical aftermath of the Lawler fight.
Current and Past Betting Odds
MacDonald is the favorite for the fourth time in five Bellator fights. This is the closest odds he’s had in the welterweight division.
Gracie is the underdog for the second time in a row. He’s less of a dog to the champion MacDonald than he was to Tapology’s No. 107 welterweight Ed Ruth.
While this fight has plenty of intriguing storylines, it isn’t one I’d bet on. MacDonald has all of the tools to win and is the more proven fighter, but he’s been fighting nearly 15 years and there are valid concerns about his mental and physical health. Gracie is one of the hottest prospects in Bellator but is still a limited fighter and is taking a big step up in competition.
I don’t feel great about it, but I’m siding with the champion on this one. He’s never been submitted in his career and Gracie’s game isn’t built to take advantage of MacDonald’s declining durability.
The Pick: Rory MacDonald (-170)