Rory MacDonald doesn’t care why B.J. Penn accepted his challenge.
All that matters is he gets the opportunity to beat a former champion at UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre Sept. 22.
“The UFC brought it up to me in the first place and said he’s thinking about coming out of retirement and fighting me,” MacDonald told QMI Agency Monday. “So I took it to the next step, made it public and challenged him in a respectful fashion. He accepted, so they put it together.
“I’ve heard it’s because he’s got bad blood with my gym. He wants revenge over the Tristar gym for the (second Georges St. Pierre) fight. But whatever his reason is, I don’t care.”
MacDonald trains alongside St. Pierre, who handed Penn a TKO loss at UFC 94 more than three years ago. Following the bout, Penn accused the welterweight champion and cornerman Phil Nurse of applying Vaseline to St. Pierre’s back and shoulders between rounds in order to allow him to slip out of submission attempts.
The former lightweight and welterweight titleholder filed a formal complaint with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but the NSAC refused to rule the bout a no-contest.
Despite Penn’s alleged vendetta against his team, MacDonald said he has nothing but respect for the MMA legend.
“It doesn’t bother me,” MacDonald said. “At the end of the day, he and I are going to fight and it’s going to be about us.
“I looked up to him when I was younger. He’s a great fighter. It’s a good opportunity for me at this point in my career.”
UFC 152 was originally expected to feature the heavyweight title rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. However, following UFC 147 Saturday, UFC president Dana White said that fight will likely be moved to a different card.
Though the organization is still looking at other options for the main event, it wouldn’t be a shock if Penn and MacDonald fill the spot.
“It could become the main event,” UFC director of Canadian operations Tom Wright said. “As you’ve heard me say before, those decisions are made by (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva and Dana White.
“If you’re asking if that fight could handle a main event — absolutely. I (like the idea of) the new-school of Rory MacDonald facing the classic, veteran, old-school of B.J. Penn. If it’s five rounds as a main event, I think it will be very entertaining.”
Penn has long been touted as one of the most naturally-gifted fighters in MMA history. MacDonald is also no stranger to similar claims about his abilities. Though he’s only 22 years old, many have already labelled him a future champion. Even his sole loss, to Carlos Condit, came via TKO after he dominated the future interim titleholder for more than two rounds.
MacDonald admits he has certain parallels with Penn, but said it doesn’t mean anything without hard work.
“I have a lot of natural ability,” MacDonald said. “I took to things really fast as a young kid. So I get it, but I also work really hard in the gym to support that and I’m sure B.J. Does, too. You can’t just be a great a fighter and not train.”
Wright said win or lose, MacDonald will learn a lot from competing against someone as seasoned as Penn.
“I think it will be a good fight for Rory,” Wright said. “Rory’s going to learn a lot from this. I think he learned from his Carlos Condit fight. He’s at that stage where he’s still got stuff to learn, but I think it will be great to watch.
“I heard Rory answer a question today about whether he’d like to be a teacher. I thought he answered it quite responsibly in saying, ‘I have still have lots to learn.’ Anybody who’s still in his early 20s still has lots to learn, but Rory is a student of the game and he loves learning. He trains out of Tristar, so you know he’s go access to some pretty strong minds when it comes to MMA.
“He knows every one of these events gives him an opportunity to learn.”