Rory MacDonald. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC (Getty Images)
His transformation from prospect to contender complete, Neiman Gracie now finds himself in position to strike Bellator MMA gold.
The undefeated Brazilian will challenge Rory MacDonald for the undisputed welterweight championship in the Bellator 222 main event on Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The five-round clash carries the added incentive of being a Bellator welterweight grand prix semifinal, with the winner advancing to the tournament final against Douglas Lima later this year.
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Gracie, 30, has compiled a perfect 9-0 record since turning professional in 2013. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt last competed at Bellator 213, where he submitted three-time NCAA wrestling champion Ed Ruth with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their grand prix quarterfinal on Dec. 15. Gracie has delivered eight of his nine career victories by submission.
Neiman Gracie. Photo: Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire (Getty Images)
MacDonald operates out of the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal. The 29-year-old Canadian last fought at Bellator 220 in April, when he retained his championship in a contentious majority draw with Jon Fitch, advanced in the welterweight grand prix and raised eyebrows with his candid post-fight interview. MacDonald admitted he was uncertain about his long-term future in the sport and questioned whether or not he had the competitive drive to move forward. Wins over the aforementioned Lima, Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia and Nate Diaz anchor his exceptional resume.
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Rory MacDonald kicks Stephen Thompson. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC (Getty Images)
Bellator 222 “MacDonald vs. Gracie”—which streams live to Dazn at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT—offers plenty beyond its headliner, including a light heavyweight co-feature slotting former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Lyoto Machida opposite Chael Sonnen and a bantamweight championship bout, as champion Darrion Caldwell meets Japanese superstar Kyoji Horiguchi. The event also features a 175-pound catchweight affair matching Dillon Danis with Max Humphrey, a bantamweight battle pitting Ricky Bandejas against Patrick Mix and a featherweight confrontation pairing Eduardo Dantas with Juan Archuleta.