“Yeah, it’s definitely pressure off my shoulders,” he said. “I can go in there and do my thing without having to worry about if I win, what am I going to have to do.”
Being in the same weight division as his famous training partner brought incessant questions over the years of what would happen if MacDonald ascended to the status of contender.
At UFC 167, there was no way to avoid them. If MacDonald won, he would have been in line for a shot at then-champ St-Pierre’s belt.
“I didn’t try to make it a big deal,” MacDonald said. “I just figured it would work out. But I think at the end of the day, when it came to me and him fighting on the same card, I was the No. 1 contender fighting Robbie, so there was pressure if we both won, what I would do there.
“Maybe that played a role in things, too, but it’s nice not to have to think about that now.”
Four months ago, MacDonald said he couldn’t “pull the trigger” inside the cage with Lawler, and he lost a split decision. Then again, he was dealing with a trio of issues that may have drawn him inward while he was supposed to be acting outwardly.
He had a torn ligament in his ankle that prevented him from properly training. He got sick in the buildup to the fight. And he dealt with the unique problem of being in St-Pierre’s shadow – and possibly in his crosshairs.
“Now that the door is kind of open for the title now, I can just go back to being myself and taking one fight at a time, and taking that title away,” MacDonald said.
Prior to the Lawler fight, MacDonald won five straight in the octagon, though his previous performance against Jake Ellenberger was widely panned by fans and the promotion.
Maia, a former jiu-jitsu champion, told MMAjunkie he hopes to take MacDonald to the mat and impose his will. It’s the latter plan that the two share.
For MacDonald, doing that means fighting without a burden on his shoulders.
“I think what I’m going to try to do is, I want to put my game on to [Maia] as best as possible,” he said. “I want to stay in my realm and not stress about getting into his realm. I’m just going out there, I’m going to pull the trigger, and I’m going to be myself out there. We’ll see what happens.”