Two of the UFC's top bantamweights will wage war this Saturday night (April 21, 2012) as former WEC champion Miguel Torres battles top prospect Michael McDonald on the UFC 145 main card in Atlanta, Georgia.
Miguel Torres is the former WEC bantamweight champion and is trying to regain that glory. He's gone 2-1 since signing up with the UFC but has yet to really leave a noticeable mark in the promotion, even briefly being released for some twitter mismanagement. In McDonald, "Angel" sees a tremendous opportunity to leap back into elite status if he can perform like he's capable.
Michael McDonald is one of the youngest and most promising talents in the UFC. Still just 21 years old, he's got serious power in his hands and has that terrific well-rounded game to fall back on. He's worked his way up and now is ready for the big-time. This is his first big shot at taking it to the next level.
Will Torres finally be able to get back in title contention? Can McDonald take the leap into the top rungs of the division? What's the key to victory for both solid bantamweights on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 40-4 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Miguel Torres got his start on the local Indiana circuit where he beat the ever-living tar out of everyone in his path. He got off to a ridiculous 31-1 record before ever leaving the state and avenged his only loss to Ryan Ackerman. During this period, he sought out Carlson Gracie and became one of his top proteges, earning a black belt which only added to his legend at the time.
Torres finally fought in the WEC where he dominated early, defeating champion Chase Beebe for the title and then defending the strap three times which had him in consideration for the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Unfortunately, the powerful Brian Bowles stopped the Torres hype train in its tracks and then a follow-up submission defeat at the hands of Joseph Benavidez put the now-former champ in a career crisis.
The Mexican-American fighter left his Indiana gym to train at TriStar in Montreal, and while the gameplans helped him bounce back with two straight wins, they also took away his infamous tenacity. He dropped a close decision to Demetrious Johnson last summer and after defeating Nick Pace in a bounce-back fight, he would be cut from the promotion for an insensitive post on twitter.
Torres apologized and was brought back into the fold and now he's being rewarded with a very high-profile fight this weekend.
How he gets it done: Torres needs to use his best natural advantages in this fight. He's one of the tallest (5'9) and has the longest reaches (76") in the UFC bantamweight division, although he takes away some of that with how he hunches over during his fights. "Angel" has been putting some time in working his jab at TriStar Gym in Montreal and if he can establish it early against McDonald, he can keep his youthful opponent at bay and set up stronger attacks later in the fight.
A big here will be for Torres to take what McDonald gives him and try not to force anything. His biggest failings have come when he's tried to hard and left huge openings, most notably against Bowles. McDonald has some serious power in his fists and if Torres doesn't utilize his range effectively, he's going to be able to get inside and connect with power.
If the fight does get inside, Torres needs to utilize his elite grappling skills. He's been working his wrestling the hardest of everything so hopefully he can use that knowledge to stay on top instead of working from bottom as he seems to be so accustomed to. If he does find himself on bottom, Torres needs to work his sweeps instead of his submissions as it's unlikely he catches the very wary McDonald from his guard.
Record: 14-1 overall, 3-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Cole Escovedo (PFC 13)
How he got here: Michael McDonald got off to an incredible early start in his mixed martial arts career. He debuted professionally in 2007 at just 16 years old and crushed everyone in his path. In his first year, he went 6-0 with six first round stoppage victories. This earned him a step up in competition although it may have been too much, too fast as he suffered his first career defeat at the hands of former WEC champion Cole Escovedo.
"Mayday" bounced back by defeating former WEC title challenger Manny Tapia and then avenging his loss to Escovedo, knocking both men out while fighting for the Tachi Palace promotion.
He made his WEC debut at just 19 years old, earning a victory over Clint Godfrey via submission in the first round and the hype really starting building. He had a rough go of it in his first two UFC bouts, winning hard-fought decisions over lesser competition although he got back on track at UFC 139 with a blistering clean 56 second knockout of Alex Soto.
Now he's geared up for what is by far the biggest test of his career.
How he gets it done: While McDonald is very well-rounded, it's his hands which are going to be the difference in this fight. Miguel Torres is better than him in terms of submissions and sweeps on the ground so I wouldn't recommend him taking the fight there unless he hurts "Angel" first.
McDonald has serious power in both fists and he's got a very quick first step. The biggest key for him is to find a way to get inside Torres' reach and connect solidly on the former champion's jaw. Footwork is going to be incredibly important as McDonald already has speed, so it'll be all about position.
I don't expect Torres to be winging haymakers, but if McDonald can sidestep a big straight right, cut inside and blast Torres with his power, that could be all he needs. This is a huge fight for him so if he has Torres hurt even the slightest, he needs to go for broke and get that finish.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is how the bright lights are going to affect McDonald. He looked great in his last fight with the first minute knockout, but he was a bit shaky in his first two Octagon appearances. This is such a tremendous opportunity and the stage is so big that there are serious concerns that the pressure of the moment and the leap in competition could get to him.
Torres isn't at the same level he once was, but he's definitely no joke. McDonald needs to be at his absolute best if he is to beat the former WEC champion and if he allows the significance of the fight to affect him in the slightest, it could be his undoing.
Bottom Line: Torres hasn't been the most exciting fighter in the past year, but McDonald is the type of opponent that is really going to push him. "Mayday" is not going to sit on the outside and get jabbed to death like Antonio Banuelos. He's not going to defend submissions for 15 minutes like Demetrious Johnson and he's not going to miss weight and look sluggish like Nick Pace. This is a talented young man who's going to bring it to Torres and force him to battle it out for up to 15 minutes. I have a very good feeling about this fight.
Who will come out on top at UFC 145? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!