Bucking bookies

JOSE RODRIGUEZ

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

His other career is listed as jail guard.

Patrolling the yard and cellblocks at Alberta's medium security Bowden Institution for the past seven years maintaining order and breaking up prison scraps.

These days, Red Deer's Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald is more comfortable as a pretzel maker than a peacemaker.

Quickly gaining a reputation for contorting his opponents into painful submission, the 31-year-old has exploded on to mixed martial arts' biggest stage with a pair of impressive victories over heavily favoured fighters.

His wins over The Ultimate Fighter alumni Ed (Short Fuse) Herman and Chris (The Crippler) Leben fooled the bookies and so impressed UFC president Dana White that he awarded MacDonald with a top spot on UFC 68: The Uprising.

"I'm living a dream right now," says MacDonald.

But he admits his March 3 pay-per-view date with former UFC middleweight champ Rich (Ace) Franklin will be his toughest test yet.

"No one can deny Rich Franklin is a great fighter," says MacDonald, whose overall MMA record is 18-7. "But in the last fight we saw that he's not invincible and he has some holes in his game.

"I plan to go in there with a game plan and capitalize on those holes."

Franklin, who at 22-2 has one of the best records in the business, was destroyed in the first round of his title defence last November by Muay Thai master Anderson (Spider) Silva.

To prepare for Franklin, MacDonald has shifted his training regimen into overdrive.

He trains three times a day and will spend the majority of his time before the fight at the Greg Jackson Academy of mixed martial in Albuquerque, N.M.

The school is noted for moulding some of the top fighters in the world, including Diego (Nightmare) Sanchez, Keith (Dean of Mean) Jardine, (Sugar) Rashad Evans and Nate Marquardt.

"This is the hot spot right now," says MacDonald, who splits much of his training in Canada between gyms in Calgary and Edmonton.

"Greg Jackson's a mastermind, and there are so many good fighters down here."

Among those expected to show up for training in the coming weeks is one of MacDonald's mixed-martial arts idols: Randy (The Natural) Couture.

Not only will the two be sharing a gym, they'll be sharing the spotlight with Couture, who will headline the March 3 event when he tries to dethrone heavyweight champ Tim (The Maine-iac) Sylvia.

And as confident as MacDonald is that he will have his arm raised after the Franklin fight, the father of three is equally sure the same will happen for the elder statesman of MMA.

"In my opinion, on March 3, Randy will be the next heavyweight champion."

FIGHT NOTES

- Long time UFC fixture Nick Diaz has signed with Pride. He'll make his debut at the Feb. 24 event in Vegas against lightweight champ Takanori Gomithat in a non-title fight. Also on that card, Pride colour commentator Frank Trigg returns to the ring to take on Kazuo Misaki, shooto world champion Hayato Sakurai will square off against former King of the Cage lightweight champ Mac Danzig, and Wanderlei Silva will throw down against Dan Henderson.

- Melvin Guillard has withdrawn from his UFC 67 scrap against Dustin Hazelett following a hand injury. Replacing Guillard at the Feb. 3 event is Diego Saraiva.

- Rumours continue to swirl that the UFC is seriously looking to buy the Pride fight club. In a recent interview, UFC president Dana White told the Baltimore Sun: "If Pride is for sale, I'm interested."


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