MacDonald relives five-round war against Lawler

When Rory MacDonald enters the Octagon at UFC Fight Night on June 18, more than 11 months will have passed since his five-round war against welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 189.

The long layoff wasn't necessarily by design -- but even MacDonald admits, it's not necessarily a bad thing either.

MacDonald, 26, is scheduled to fight Stephen Thompson (12-1) at UFC Fight Night in Ottawa. The headliner will have serious implications in the 170-pound division. ESPN.com ranks MacDonald and Thompson the No. 2 and 4 welterweights in the world, respectively.

Fighting out of Tristar MMA in Montreal, MacDonald (18-3) wanted to come back as early as January, but his body sent him a message it wasn't ready in the form of a re-broken nose. He also said contract negotiations with the UFC delayed his return. Ultimately, the setbacks might have been a blessing.

"I came back too early and too aggressive and re-broke my nose," MacDonald told ESPN.com. "I was sure I would be fighting Hector Lombard around January, but then contract negotiations put a damper on things. It's a good thing in the long run. More time is better for my health, but I'm anxious to get back in there."

MacDonald's return from one of the bloodiest fights of 2015 (named ESPN.com's fight of the year) has to be considered one of the most intriguing storylines in the sport. MacDonald fought Lawler for the 170-pound championship on July 11 and was ahead 39-37 on all three judges' scorecards.

He suffered a broken nose in the bout, however, and ended up succumbing to punches at the 1:00 mark of the final round. The image of MacDonald crumpling to the canvas and then struggling to sit up was one of the more lasting images of the year. MacDonald, for his part, later described it as the greatest moment of his life.

"The fact I was up in the fifth round bothers me a little bit," MacDonald said. "But right away, when I think of that, I think of how messed up I was and how I couldn't stand anymore. I really tried to put my poker face on for three rounds before that to show I wasn't hurt, but I was badly hurt. I used as much will as I could that night.

"Pain comes and goes in fights. I found that when it came to the actual injury, when I would get hit in the nose, that's when it would hurt. I would forget about it because it wasn't painful, but it was causing internal damage. Like, I was breathing in blood. It was more feeling those effects, not so much pain. Whenever I would get hit or touched in the face, it would get more and more traumatic."

MacDonald was originally under the impression he would fight Lombard (34-4), who is coming off a one-year drug suspension. The UFC ultimately booked Lombard to a fight against Neil Magny this weekend in Brisbane, Australia.

Instead, MacDonald draws a former Tristar teammate in Thompson. A South Carolina native, Thompson has spent time in Montreal training alongside former welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre. Thompson is coming off a first-round knockout over Johny Hendricks last month and refers to MacDonald as a "friend," although the two haven't trained with one another in several years.

The winner of the June 18 fight will be a top candidate to fight for the UFC's welterweight title later this year.

"To go against somebody like Johny and finish him in the first round, a guy who had never been finished and has went 10 rounds with Robbie Lawler -- I knew for a fact I was going to get a [title shot] after finishing Hendricks," Thompson said. "It's disappointing [I didn't], but I'm looking forward to putting on another show.

"I think when I step into the Octagon against Rory in June, it's going to be against the best Rory we've seen in a few years. I really truly believe that's what's going to happen. And I want that to be true because I want to fight the best. I don't want to fight a Rory that's injured or not 100 percent. I know Rory is an honorable fighter as well. That's what I want."