Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC on FUEL TV 7 headliner -- and the promotion's top No. 1 bantamweight title contender -- Michael McDonald, who will attempt to replace Renan Barao as the 135-pound interim champion this Saturday night (Feb. 16, 2013) in London England.
Rising star Michael McDonald will attempt to dethrone Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barao in the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main event this Saturday (Feb. 16 2013) at the Wembley Arena in London, England.
"Mayday" started his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career when he was just 16, piling up an impressive record (10-1) before being recruited to the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion. After a quick submission victory over Clint Godfrey, McDonald was brought into the UFC, where he would win three more fights.
Then, he violently finished former WEC champion Miguel Torres to earn a title shot at interim champ Renan Barao.
Does "Mayday" now have the skills to take out the talented Brazilian?
Let's find out:
Although McDonald began training kickboxing when he was 10 years young, his striking comprises mostly boxing. McDonald is skilled at both countering and attacking, which makes him dangerous in every exchange. He is a pretty patient fighter, but goes all out for the finish when he thinks his opponent is hurt.
The "Mayday" boxing attack is all based on landing his big right hand. McDonald packs a ton of power of for a 135-pound fighter and he lands often. When he attacks, McDonald will open up with a jab and follow it up with a vicious straight right hand or right hook. Once he starts landing, McDonald will throw longer combinations and mix in his left hook more. He counters almost exclusively with his right hand, which is strong enough to deter most of his opponents from attacking.
One of McDonald's best techniques is his counter to leg kicks. Whenever his opponent tries to kick him, McDonald will burst forward with a straight right hand, catching his opponent off balance. After he lands the straight right, he'll finish with another two or three punches. "Mayday" began his finish of Alex Soto with a leg kick counter, and won a decision over Chris Cariaso by landing every time he tried to kick.
McDonald's most powerful punch is his uppercut. He is such a powerful striker that his opponents tend to utilize very tight, high guards to protect themselves from his straight right. Once they do, McDonald will lift them off the ground with an uppercut. When he hurts an opponent, McDonald will charge in throwing three or four uppercuts in a single combination, trying to catch his opponent ducking down
Although McDonald prefers to box, he does have some powerful kicks. He will occasionally go after the legs, but McDonald likes to rip kicks to the body and head. Since his opponents are forced to keep their hands glued to their chins, McDonald's body kick is an effective and accurate strike.
McDonald's defense is generally pretty sound. He keeps his hands high and moves his head most of the time, but Edwin Figueroa was able to suck him into a brawl and make him abandon his solid technique.
Although he never wrestled in high school, McDonald has some solid ground skills. According to FightMetric, McDonald has an 86 percent takedown success rate and defends 67 percent of the time.
When McDonald decides to take the fight to the ground, he almost always shoots a quick double leg takedown. McDonald's drive is very powerful -- he literally runs through his takedowns. Again, "Mayday" excels at timing his opponents' leg kicks and quickly drops down and sweeps them off their feet. He is also very good a ducking under a wild haymaker and catching his opponent off guard with a double leg.
"Mayday" has turned to his wrestling twice in the UFC. Against Cariaso, he repeatedly countered the Muay Thai fighter's leg kicks with his right hand, but "Kamikaze" hung tough. McDonald changed his strategy, instead shooting in for takedowns whenever Cariaso kicked, which earned him the decision. Against brawler Edwin Figueroa, McDonald exploited "El Feroz's" weak ground game, ducking under his looping overhands.
McDonald has shown a very good sprawl and has stuffed most of his opponents shots. However, Cariaso was able to hit a couple of takedowns by catching McDonald's kicks. Cariaso isn't known as the greatest wrestler, so this could be a potential weakness in "Mayday's" game.
McDonald has earned a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and is a very aggressive submission fighter. Since his fights mostly take place on the feet, we don't often get to see his jiu-jitsu, but it's pretty impressive when we do.
When McDonald is on his back, he has an active guard. He quickly rotates his hips, constantly looking for armbars and triangles. McDonald was able to hit an armbar on Clint Godfrey after rocking him in the WEC, McDonald has also showed solid guard passing skills, getting to dominant positions against both Figueroa and Cariaso.
Against Figueroa, McDonald was able to easily pass his guard and take his back. After threatening with some deep chokes, McDonald transitioned to an armbar. Figueroa toughed it out, so McDonald locked on a triangle, both trying to catch and arm and choke Figueroa out.
Although he wasn't able to finish the Texan, McDonald's ground attack was still impressive.
McDonald is arguably the heaviest puncher in the Bantamweight division. His straight right hand is absolutely lethal, forcing his opponent into his other powerful punch, his uppercut. It is arduous to block both the straight right hand and the uppercut, especially when they are thrown of often as McDonald throws them.
In every fight so far in the UFC, McDonald has been able to rock or drop his opponent. "Mayday" is able to herd his opponent right into his right hand and then send him tumbling across the Octagon. In a division crowded with volume strikers, McDonald stands out as one of very few fighters who can end the fight with a single strike.
In his scrap with Cariaso, "Kamikaze" actually out landed "Mayday." The difference was that when McDonald landed clean, Caraiso had to back away to clear his head, or he was suddenly on his back wondering where he was.
Best chance for success
Despite his kickboxing background, McDonald shouldn't attempt to kickbox Barao. Instead, he should attempt to counter every one of Barao's kicks, both with his right hand and with takedowns. In a straight boxing match, McDonald would easily take out Barao, so eliminating the kicks should be a priority. If he takes down Barao, he should be extremely cautious. Land a few strikes and then back away from the Nova Uniao-trained product.
If McDonald can get Barao to brawl with him, he absolutely should. Brad Pickett landed cleanly, and often, on Barao before a crushing knee knocked him down ... and he doesn't have the power McDonald does. Barao's head movement disappears in long exchanges, so it might be necessary for "Mayday" to abandon his defense and patience and instead take a chance that he lands big.
McDonald has to do everything he can to avoid being on his back. Barao is a nasty jiu-jitsu black belt, and despite McDonald's own skill in that area, it is a terrible idea to have a submission battle with Barao.
If McDonald executes a perfect gameplan, stuffing Barao's takedowns and punishing him for kicking, then he will be the youngest UFC champion ever.
The question is ... can he execute on fight night?