In early 2011, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was making the most of its newly-acquired assets from World Extreme Cafefighting (WEC). Just as Jose Aldo had taken the lead at 145 pounds, Dominick Cruz had anointed himself king of the Bantamweights, preparing for his upcoming grudge (re) match against nemesis Urijah Faber.
While the mixed martial arts (MMA) world focused on the heated rivalry between "The Dominator" and "The California Kid," a 20-year-old prospect named Michael McDonald was making his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 24.
At the time, "Mayday" was 11-1, having cut his teeth on the regional circuit in promotions like Tachi Palace Fights, where he racked up impressive wins over grizzled WEC veterans Manny Tapia and Cole Escovedo. In fact, his knockout win over Escovedo avenged his 2009 loss to "The Apache Kid" and earned him a spot at WEC 52, where he promptly submitted Clint Godfrey midway through the opening frame.
Now it was time to see what the part-time carpenter could do in the big leagues.
McDonald had established himself as a finisher, ending all 11 of his wins, nine of them in the first round. Waiting to greet him was the undefeated Edwin Figueroa, who eventually came up short on the judges' scorecards in Seattle, but at least had the consolation of knowing he was the first fighter to take him to a decision.
Chris Cariaso was the second.
In fact, his split decision win over "Kamikaze" at UFC 130 was such a close call it left many pundits wondering if McDonald was the terror he came billed to be. Then came his violent finish over Alex Soto at UFC 139 and they wondered no more.
But was he championship material?
That remained to be seen. The best way to prove you can take the championship heat is by walking through fire, and the promotion had paried him off against former WEC bantamweight titleholder Miguel Torres, who was coming off a win over Nick Pace and positioning himself for another run at the belt.
The stage was set for UFC 145 on April 21, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Here's what happened.
Touch of gloves gets the fight started and Torres paws with the jab. A few seconds of bobbing and weaving from both fighters and the former WEC champion lunges forward with a wild right hand. McDonald ducks and counters before breaking away.
"This is a big opportunity for Michael McDonald," remarks cageside color commentator Joe Rogan.
Torres reaches with a jab and eats an incoming head kick. He resets and charges forward but once again, McDonald slips his punches and counters, this time to the body. They exchange jabs in the center of the Octagon and "Mayday" decides he's had enough and gallops in with a stinging uppercut.
Torres covers up and kicks it into reverse until he slams into the cage. McDonald still firing while Miguel tries to punch his way out of danger but can only endure the onslaught until his aggressor backs off and resets. Torres follows him to ground zero and lands a hard left hand before losing his mouthpiece.
Referee Herb Dean scoops it from the floor and it's game on (yuck).
Another touch of gloves to resume the violence and Torres is stalking, but gets careless when he closes the distance and swallows an uppercut. His legs betray him and "Mayday" follows him south with a flurry to seal the deal. Dean waves him off and makes it official.
Michael McDonald has arrived.
With Dominick Cruz nursing an injured knee and unable to defend his title, Renan Pegado was able to defeat Urijah Faber at UFC 149 to secure the Interim championship, the same one he'll defend against McDonald in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 7, which emanates from the Wembley Arena in London, England, on Feb. 16, 2013.
Will the belt change hands across the pond?