There’s almost an unwritten rule of mixed martial arts that says fighters must rise from some other combat sport in order to rise in the Octagon (i.e. wrestling, jiu-jitsu, etc.). Some of the newcomers to the sport have come straight to MMA due to its meteoric rise to fame and others have come from Internet obscurity to overnight celebrity.
Jason “The Athlete” MacDonald bucks all previous trends. At 21-10, the married father of four is slowly but surely making his mark inside the UFC. MacDonald lives up to his moniker, but his previous athletic endeavors are not the kind that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of “Athlete.”
“I was actually a volleyball player in university and we used to watch the UFC on road trips when we would travel to play other teams,” the man fighting out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada says of his introduction to the sport. After I graduated and was done with volleyball, I was looking to stay involved in athletics but wanted to do a sport that was more individualized after being involved in team sports my whole life, so I decided to give mixed martial arts a try.
In case you’re wondering if the above quote is a misprint: it’s not. MacDonald made the transition from volleyball—volleyball—to MMA.
“That was a big transition to go from a sport where there’s zero contact to a contact sport. I was always a good athlete and I was able to apply myself and commit myself to get better.”
The commitment to the sport and previous athletic ability propelled MacDonald to victory in his first eight professional bouts—all via submission. A man who previously had zero combat experience went on a tear through smaller promotions, besting opponents with heel hooks, key locks, arm bars and chokes.
Not bad, for a guy that fought part time.
“Initially I started the sport as a hobby, I was working a fulltime job and doing it on the side, much like many up and coming fighters are doing. I trained when I could and fought when I could and was enjoying it. I’m a fan of the sport and I love to be a part of it. I still continue to learn and I love what I’m doing.”
MacDonald would venture to the United States to get his break in the fight game; earning a spot Frank Shamrock’s fight team in San Jose, California. The experience with Shamrock and Bob Cook allowed MacDonald to further develop his skills as a fighter. “As the sport evolved, I continued to evolve and get better,” he says of the experience.
In 2006, a largely unknown MacDonald entered the UFC at 15-8 to face Ultimate Fighter 3 runner up Ed Herman. With Herman favored to win the fight by fans of the show, MacDonald made short work of Herman, defeating him via triangle choke at 2:43 in the first round. Proving that lightening could strike twice, MacDonald defeated TUF alumni Chris “The Crippler” Leben at UFC 66 via guillotine choke. Both victories earned MacDonald “Submission of the Night” honors and he was also crowned with a new nickname: “TUF Killer.”
“I think going into the Herman fight, Ed was coming off the television show, they were looking to get him in there against reputable people,” he says reflecting on his first match. “I think they were thinking I’d be a bit of a test for Ed, but also feel that they brought me in as a stepping stone. After I took out Ed, I think they realized I was no pushover.
“With Leben, he had a lot of knockout power, but I figured if I fought a smart fight, I’d be able to submit him. I passed that test. It was never my goal to just get to the UFC; I wanted to be a competitor. I wanted to come into the UFC and try to make an impact.”
Despite a fast start in the Octagon, MacDonald faced several stumbling en route to a potential showdown with current middle weight champion Anderson Silva. He feels that losses to guys like Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami—who was previously considered to be the number one contender before suffering an injury—and most recently to Demian Maia slowed his progress. However, one thing “The Athlete” is not is a quitter.
The proof of that is in MacDonald’s fight record. The Maia fight was less than a month ago at UFC 87 and on extremely short notice, will come back this Saturday at UFC 88 against Jason “The Punisher” Lambert.
“I prefer to fight more often,” MacDonald says of his hectic schedule. “Some of the best runs I’ve put together are when I’ve fought back to back. It keeps me in shape and on top of my game. I’m a fighter and I’m here to fight. Your career in the sport is only so long; I’m 33 and want to take advantage of every second.”
In Lambert, MacDonald will face a heavy handed puncher coming in with back to back losses in the UFC. However, “The Athlete” will own a 5″ height advantage in the bout, something he hopes to use to his advantage.
“I’m taller and a lot longer [than Lambert]. If I’m able to use my reach against Lambert, I think it will open things up for a possible knock out.”
With the short notice of the fight, MacDonald wasn’t able to prepare extensively for Lambert, but is not overly concerned with the new comer to the middleweight division.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of a training camp; I found out a week ago that I was fighting [laughs]. He’s a big puncher and I’ll have to be careful of getting caught with a big punch. He’s short, very compact and very powerful and that might cause some problems so we’ve been working on not getting caught in those positions. If the fight goes to the ground, I’m too worried about the dangers there.”