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Rory MacDonald sped up recovery to accept Paul Daley fight

Rory MacDonald has been out of action since his final UFC fight in June while recovering from a badly broken nose. Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports

Rory MacDonald had a pretty simple plan going into 2017, and it began with not accepting a fight until the summer.

MacDonald (18-4) became one of the most significant free-agent acquisitions in Bellator MMA history last August, when he signed a multifight deal with the promotion after a six-year relationship with the UFC.

It was immediately announced upon his signing, however, that MacDonald's promotional debut wouldn't come until well into 2017. The 27-year-old required time to heal a badly broken nose from his memorable, five-round war against Robbie Lawler in 2015.

But then on Jan. 21, British slugger Paul Daley delivered a highlight-reel, flying-knee knockout over Brennan Ward and called out MacDonald in the postfight interview. Less than three weeks later, Bellator announced a welterweight fight between the two on May 19 in London.

"It was a little earlier than expected, but the nose has been healing properly," MacDonald told ESPN.com. "I felt the time was right. We got a good offer to fight Daley in London, a fight that people are excited for.

"[Bellator] wanted my debut to be the biggest fight possible. They don't need to build me up. I wanted to choose the biggest fight, too. We have a common interest in that."

Last year, MacDonald tested his shattered nose too quickly, and ended up re-breaking it several times while training for a fight against Stephen Thompson in June. He broke it again during the fight itself.

Following the Thompson fight, which he lost via unanimous decision, MacDonald mentioned the possibility of surgery -- but he later found out that wasn't much of an option.

"No one knew if surgery would make it stronger or weaker," MacDonald said. "The things they can do for you is open your breathing by fixing your septum. I'm not having a problem breathing. It came down to just letting the bones strengthen."

Of course, it's difficult to predict how long a bone will take to do that. MacDonald admits the original time frame, which would have had him on the sideline until potentially July, was more or less a simple estimate. So when the Daley offer came and the nose felt fine, he jumped at it.

"It was just a guess from the beginning," MacDonald said. "I'm still testing it out slowly and it's healing faster than I thought. When you're training, it gets bumped and punched and kicked, and it has felt stable."

MacDonald is a unique signing for Bellator in that, assuming the nose is a nonissue, he's entering the prime of his career. He is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time but both were close fights against top competition. ESPN.com ranks MacDonald as the No. 5 welterweight.

Generally speaking, it's seen as nearly impossible for a fighter to rise to a No. 1 ranking in a division while fighting outside of the UFC, simply based on quality of competition alone.

MacDonald will compete in Bellator's deepest weight class, however, and he holds a win over current UFC champion Tyron Woodley from June 2014.

Should MacDonald win the 170-pound Bellator title later this year, he'd immediately add to its legitimacy based on his track record. And he says fighting current champion Douglas Lima, who is currently recovering from minor surgery, was the original plan for his debut.

But a big splash debut against Daley in London was simply too good to pass up.

"Paul has been around for a long time, but he definitely needed to come off that big, hype-building win to set up this fight," MacDonald said. "This fight is right up there with competing for the title. It all comes down to timing. Lima is coming off surgery and this is a big card in London.

"Bellator is making the right moves to create this whole division. They've been known to do a superfight and draw attention, as well as nostalgia fights, but they're also working hard to put together a powerful roster that's looked at as the best out there."