Almost a year since he announced his signing to the Professional Fighters League, Rory MacDonald expected him to spend the fall preparing for the MMA league semifinals before advancing to the PFL championships on New Year's Eve.
Instead, MacDonald is preparing for his PFL debut indefinitely.
The former UFC and Bellator superstar was set to become the PFL's most recognizable face – and the main target of the PFL world weights – before the league made its decision to cancel the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. And while there is no fighting in sight for the PFL this year, MacDonald is still easily hoping for a 2020 miracle.
"I was hoping to get some kind of update after the summer," says MacDonald. "But I pray I'll get an opportunity later this year. If not, it looks like there will be a long hiatus."
But while his fight schedule remains empty, a mix of old weight training, new age visualization techniques, and some creative new twists in his regime – gymnastics – has kept MacDonald sharp while staying ready for the fight when the PFL likely kicks off the 2021 season.
"I've been training hard throughout this quarantine," says MacDonald. "I used the layoff as a motivational factor to just get better and be ready when that time comes."
Along with PFL lightweight defending champion Kayla Harrison, who can claim to be the best fighter in the world, MacDonald became one of the PFL's most recognizable stars and stamped himself the moment he signed with the emerging MMA league in December fast as The Biggest Threat to the Belt of 2019 Welterweight Champion Ray Cooper.
"Rory is an elite talent," said Peter Murray, CEO of PFL. "He is a top 10 welterweight with a championship pedigree and great fighting experience. We are (still) excited to see him in our challenging season format in a stacked division (welterweight). His signing is certainly a signal to the market … the PFL is a place that you should seriously consider. "
MacDonald was hoping to add to his MMA résumé, which was already filled with signature victories, particularly victories against former UFC welterweight champions Tyron Woodley and Nate Diaz. His two epic Bellator battles in which he split with current welterweight champion Douglas Lima made it possibly the best rivalry in the organization. Instead, COVID-19 forced his workout into his fully equipped garage at his Montreal home.
Before each pandemic, MacDonald had already run a club-quality garage gym that was equipped with free weights, a power rack, a treadmill, and a bike. He said he added a few bits and pieces to make the gym complete. "I only trained from home by myself," says MacDonald. "I made a few small additions – I ordered from Amazon and other places, but I had most of the items."
MacDonald could do most of his workout in his garage – squats, presses, and treadmills were the standard.
But for a fighter, even a former world champion, social distancing mandates brought on by the coronavirus made it difficult for a while to repeat sparring sessions with real people. MacDonald says that for the first few months he improvised as best he could, using heavy bags, ground bags, and pound bags. Gradually, MacDonald was able to familiarize himself with coaches and teammates again and be as confident as possible.
"It was a little strange at first," admits MacDonald. “At first I only trained alone from home. They had to make adjustments, but we made it. "
MacDonald also added mind games – literally – to help bridge the sparring gap created by the pandemic. He credit the visualization – he played combat scenarios and bored your head in a near-continuous loop until it carried over to the Ats. MacDonald says the Mind Techniques are a quality addition to an athlete's routine, and advises any seasoned veteran to be concerned about your routine.
“I think the best tool that not a lot of people use is to just use your imagination when you're on your downtime,” admits MacDonald. “Visualizing movement techniques during a fight can help you put things together. It helps you become more coordinated when you put it into practice. "
RINGS OF FIRE
MacDonald was able to use the downtime to add gymnastics training to his arsenal. He credits his kickboxing trainer for bringing him to this strength and stability foundation for the whole body weight. At the same time, gymnastics training was popularized with MMA athletes by another of his mentors, his Canadian colleague and UFC legend Georges St. Pierre.
Exercise rings, as well as a variety of resistance bands and weight training equipment, were some of the quarantine supplements in MacDonald's home gym. Along with shaking up his workout, MacDonald says adding ring dips, reverse rows, and other ring-based movements made his body shiver on the first few tries. Even so, MacDonald says that incorporating these types of body weight movements makes him feel stronger today than he did during his last fight last October.
"I started doing gymnastics just because I felt like it would be fun to try something new, but it also strengthened my muscles and improved my coordination."
Trying to surpass the unstable forces that come with wrestling is easy to humiliate and hurt, and MacDonald was no different to begin with, especially his first crack on an L-sit, an excruciating full-body strength move involving arms, core, and legs. "I couldn't do it at first," admits MacDonald. "I thought I have to practice this to get better."
He says his progress was made in small steps, initially with his legs trapped that look more like an H-seat than an L. Over time, MacDonald said he could straighten his legs more until he mastered the movement and created a L a a few days later.
I wouldn't say I did it, ”says MacDonald. "But I could do it."
TRAIN LIKE RORY MACDONALD
- Hamstring stretch
- Bodyweight Squat: 30 reps
- Push-ups: 20 repetitions
- Pullup: 10 repetitions
- Hip Mobility Drill
- Dip: 10 repetitions
- Plank: 60 sec.
- Backward plank: 60 sec.
5 sets of:
- One-legged pistol squat: 10 repetitions
- Reverse row (with rings): 6 repetitions
- Deep pushup (with rings): 10 repetitions
- Dips (with rings): 5 repetitions
- Hanging L-Sit lasts: 5 seconds:
- Pull-ups (with rings): 5 repetitions
- Reverse lung: 6 repetitions
Heavy pocket work