Rory MacDonald had this in mind when he left the Ultimate Fighting Championship to sign a free-agent deal with Bellator MMA in 2016.
The Tristar Gym lynchpin will challenge Douglas Lima for the promotion’s undisputed welterweight title in the Bellator 192 co-main event on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Their five-round battle plays second fiddle to the Quinton Jackson-Chael Sonnen heavyweight grand prix quarterfinal on Paramount (9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT).
MacDonald made his organizational debut at Bellator 179 on May 19, when he snapped a two-fight losing streak with a rear-naked choke submission on Paul Daley. The 28-year-old former King of the Cage champion compiled a 9-4 record in 13 appearances under the UFC flag, losing only to Robbie Lawler (twice), Stephen Thompson and Carlos Condit. MacDonald has authored 14 finishes among his 19 career victories, seven of them inside one round. His list of victims includes Tarec Saffiedine, Mike Pyle, Kajan Johnson and Jordan Mein.
Training out of an American Top Team affiliate in Atlanta, Lima established himself as one of the sport’s premier welterweights with a run of sustained success in Bellator. He last competed at Bellator 180, where he extended his current winning streak to three fights and retained his championship with a five-round unanimous decision over Lorenz Larkin. Lima, 30, has delivered 25 of his 30 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
The Lima-MacDonald welterweight title clash is but one must-see attraction on the Bellator 192 menu. Here are four more:
Yamauchi gets the breakthrough opportunity he has long sought, as he will lock horns with a former Bellator lightweight champion in a 155-pound feature. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has looked downright terrifying across his past three outings, executing consecutive submissions on Ryan Couture, Valeriu Mircea and Adam Piccolotti. None of the three survived the first round against Yamauch, a 24-year-old prospect who most believe has not yet reached his full potential. Chandler has been one of the crown jewels of the Bellator organization since he arrived on the scene in 2010, twice capturing gold in the lightweight division. He has not fought since a leg injury cost him the title in a technical knockout loss to Brent Primus at Bellator 180 on June 24. Wins over Benson Henderson and Eddie Alvarez highlight Chandler’s resume.
A former World Series of Fighting and Tachi Palace Fights champion, Karakhanyan rarely disappoints on the entertainment front. The Millennia MMA representative has won three of his past four bouts, a majority decision loss to Emmanuel Sanchez his only misstep. Karakhanyan, 32, last competed at Bellator 182 in August, when he stopped Daniel Pineda on a second-round technical knockout. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has secured 14 of his 28 career victories via submission: five by guillotine choke, four by rear-naked choke, two by triangle choke, one by north-south choke, one by kimura and one by armbar. Corrales has the wind of a two-fight winning streak at his back. The 31-year-old operates out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, where he trains under John Crouch.
Pico, 21, if nothing else has shown he can respond to adversity. The uber-prospect bounced back from an embarrassing loss in his pro debut to even his record at 1-1 with a first-round knockout of Justin Linn at Bellator 183 in September. Whether or not he takes off from here remains to be seen. Pico excelled as an amateur wrestler -- he placed second at the 2016 Olympic Trials -- and also enjoyed success as a boxer and pankration fighter. The Whittier, California, native agreed to a multi-fight contract with Bellator as an 18-year-old in 2014. Kruchten has rattled off a dozen wins over his past 13 appearances but has not fought since he earned a unanimous decision over Jeremy Mahon at a World Series of Fighting event in December 2016.
The intrigue surrounding Gracie is based primarily on pedigree. The 20-year-old son of UFC hall of famer Royce Gracie will make his professional debut a little less than two months after signing with Bellator. Gracie has but one amateur bout under his belt -- a three-round decision win against Ben Clark at a regional show in Tennessee on Sept. 22. Brock, 22, has not yet fought professionally.