This Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) UFC bantamweights Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald will face off in the co-main event of UFC on FOX 9 from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. The pivotal showdown will likely decide the next title contender at 135 pounds.
Former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Faber comes into the bout with a ton of momentum on his side. After losing his bid for the interim bantamweight title to Renan Barao at UFC 149, Faber has won three mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts in a row.
"California Kid" was last seen dismantling Yuri Alcantara at UFC Fight Night 26. It was one of the many gritty performances that have come to define Faber. Alcantara had Faber mounted in the first round only to see him fight back and ground-and-pound his way to a decision win.
The Team Alpha Male leader has the pride of his surging teammates behind him, but even that may not be enough to stop the freight train that the 22-year-old McDonald has become.
"Mayday" also fought at UFC Fight Night 26, engaging in a highly entertaining war with Brad Pickett before submitting him in the second round. McDonald earned both "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" for his thrilling effort.
Now he's going for another title shot. He failed in his first attempt when he succumbed to an arm-triangle choke at the hands of bulldozing interim champion Barao.
With dire implications fueling this closely matched affair, we could have a war on our hands. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald:
Record: 29-6 overall, 5-2 UFC
Keys to Victory: Number two-ranked Faber brings a solid mix of wrestling, submissions, and conditioning that few fighters can outlast. Now that he's benefited from the tutelage of Muay Thai expert and new head coach Duane Ludwig, Faber's overall game has progressed to new levels.
His only problem is winning title fights as he's lost five in a row. Fortunately for "California Kid," this is a non-title bout.
McDonald has looked almost unbeatable in his torrid run in UFC. He did show one small weakness, however. Barao was able to quickly lock him up in a tight choke that spelled instant doom for "Mayday."
Faber is also an expert of chokes, having utilized a various array of them to submit an alarming 14 foes. Faber's no slouch on the feet, but you can bet he'll be looking to neutralize McDonald's striking prowess by getting this fight to the ground. He has a ton of avenues to look for a takedown and should hold quite the decided wrestling advantage.
Faber has continuously fought his way into the title picture for years now but he hasn't been able to wrap any coveted gold around his waist. After losing five consecutive title bouts one has to wonder if the pressure is getting to him mentally. He's one of the most popular fighters in the world. He'll also have the added pressure of fighting near his hometown and on the same card as his Team Alpha Male brethren.
That's a big load to shoulder but Faber should be ready.
He needs to show up mentally focused and not psych himself out. Letting McDonald coax him into a slugfest like Pickett did won't win him this fight. Using his top-flight grappling will.
This fight is going to define the later stages of Faber's illustrious career. Win and he gets another shot at the belt. Lose and he may just become a high-level gatekeeper.
Record: 16-2 overall, 5-1 UFC
Key Losses: Renan Barao (UFC on FUEL TV 7)
Keys to Victory: Number three-ranked McDonald is the hottest up-and-coming bantamweight prospect in UFC. He's steamrolled through competition in the Octagon save for the dominant Barao.
And he's done it with relative ease.
"Mayday" possesses dynamite in his hands. Watch his shocking knockout of former WEC champ Miguel Torres if you need proof. Faber has a notoriously tough chin and has only been finished by strikes twice in his 35-fight career. Despite that fact McDonald needs to get aggressive in the striking game. Pushing the pace early on and keeping a high volume of punches in Faber's face will go a long way in disrupting his opponent's rhythm.
It'll also prevent Faber from finding too much space to change levels and go for a takedown. McDonald has a decent reach advantage and should use that to his advantage. Maintaining a nonstop boxing output will be key to stopping Faber's offense.
He also needs to bring sharpened takedown and submission defense to the bout. Faber has the wrestling pedigree to get most bantamweights down and the chokes to finish them once he does. McDonald needs to exercise extreme caution when unleashing his combinations. Getting careless will get him slammed to the mat where he'll be out of his comfort zone against a fighter of Faber's caliber.
McDonald showed solid submission skills in locking up a fight-ending choke on Pickett but "California Kid" has never tapped out. Going for a submission will be more of a last-ditch effort for McDonald here.
His focus should be on outpointing Faber on the feet, finding an opportunity for the knockout, and defending takedowns. If he can do all three of those things with a measured degree of success, McDonald will be able to score the biggest win of his young career.
Bottom Line from Sacramento: The bottom line for this fight is that it's going to be a battle due to the pivotal rankings implications involved. Outside of a title fight, there's not a bigger bout UFC could have put together at 135 pounds.
Tensions will be mounting when these two lock horns in the Octagon. Faber needs to prove that he can hang with the elite of a rising generation of bantamweights. He never had much of an answer for Barao, but at least he didn't get finished like McDonald did.
This bout is going to show us if Faber has one more title run in him. He's looked great as of late, dominating upper mid-level competition as he always has.
However, McDonald is without a doubt the stiffest test Faber has faced since losing to Barao. "Mayday" is a rare talent that only comes along every so often. His knockout power is alarming for someone of his size and stature. He'll test Faber's chin early and often so "California Kid" needs to be ready.
Faber's toughness is legendary but McDonald could prove that his time has come.
The winner of this bout will most likely face the winner of UFC 169's Dominick Cruz vs. Barao title unification bout. It would be poetic justice for both Cruz and Faber to win because their rubber match was postponed when Cruz tore his ACL back in 2011.
But this is MMA and anything can happen.
Faber vs. McDonald has all the makings of a "Fight of the Night"-winning bout. Both fighters lay it all on the line in every fight and never back down. It'll be no different here.
Urijah Faber attempts to fight his way into a third shot at UFC gold against top-rated prospect Michael McDonald. Will "California Kid" deliver for his hometown fans or will he be crying "Mayday?"