Michael "Mayday" McDonald (14-1) is a fighting savant. At age 10, when normal children are watching cartoons and building forts, he started training in martial arts. At age 14, while most of us underwent the revelation that girls might not be as gross and icky as we suspected, McDonald was competing in his first amateur kickboxing bout. At age 16, when we embraced the freedom of a freshly laminated driver's license and pushed the limits on a 10 p.m. curfew, "Mayday" was beginning his career as a professional MMA fighter. Shockingly, out of his two brothers, McDonald was the last to bring home a title when he became the Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight champion at age 19.
To earn that championship, McDonald avenged his only career loss to former UFC bantamweight Cole Escovedo, finishing him in the 2nd-round by TKO; the same punishment Escovedo inflicted upon him a few fights prior. McDonald's magnetic entrance into the sport attracted the attention of the big leagues and the youngster wasted no time in the WEC by securing a 1st-round armbar in his debut. It was all UFC from there, where McDonald wowed the audience with a back-and-forth slobberknocker against Edwin Figueroa and picked up a decision win with "Fight of the Night" honors in his Octagon premiere. After sneaking past a feisty Chris Cariaso in a closely contested split decision, McDonald shellacked Alex Soto for a 1st-round TKO in his last outing at UFC 139.
Miguel Torres (40-4) was once perched atop the bantamweight and pound-for-pound rankings and widely considered the most dominant champion in the sport. After defending the WEC bantamweight title successfully against Takeya Mizugaki in 2009, Torres was basking in an unparalleled 17-fight win streak and had won 36 of 37 matches overall. But, alas, Torres was blasted off the throne by a heat-seeking overhand from Brian Bowles and has produced a mediocre 50/50 rate in his last 6 turns.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
After tasting mortality against Bowles, Torres continued to struggle. With a vicious elbow, Team Alpha Male's Joseph Benavidez parted his forehead like a set of drapes and then tapped him with a guillotine choke. Torres concluded his fantastic stint in the WEC with a rear-naked choke on Charlie Valencia and began his UFC tour with another; a mature and jab-heavy decision over Antonio Banuelos. He went on to drop a controversial decision to eventual #1 contender Demetrious Johnson but rebound with a commanding performance against Nick Pace in his last.
The Match Up
Having taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu alongside kickboxing in his mid-teens, McDonald seamlessly alternates between striking and grappling at a thoroughly blinding pace. He's genuinely as well rounded as they come and flaunts 12 stoppages in 14 outings with 8 TKOs and 4 submissions. His kickboxing is so naturally quick and crisp that it's like watching a video game character being controlled by a button-mashing Ritalin fiend.
McDonald's edge in speed and kickboxing prowess will be counteracted by the absurd 76" reach and scorching medley of Muay Thai and BJJ of Torres. With a vast array of weapons at his disposal, Torres is creative in wreaking havoc with lengthy boxing from outside, crackling knees and elbows in the clinch and silky-smooth grappling on the mat. Takedown defense used to be an unnecessary distraction for Torres, who would welcome anyone into the voracious maw of his guard (23 submission wins) and sweep to top position if he couldn't submit them.
His carefree mentality towards being taken down might have changed after the disappointing loss to Johnson, who put Torres on his back frequently with beautiful duck-under double legs. Torres was extremely active off his back, threatening with a stream of submissions and executing brilliant sweeps, yet the takedown and top-game wins that battle (in the judges' eyes, at least) 9 times out of 10. I would imagine McDonald learned from that dynamic as well and I expect him to rely on his exemplary footwork to inject more wrestling into his offense. He'll be faced with the cumbersome range and striking of Torres and his footwork and takedowns will pay huge dividends when meshed with his striking. McDonald, a BJJ brown belt, should have the submission savvy to hang with Torres, a black belt, and he's definitely the better wrestler.
Though both fighters are exceptionally dynamic, I'm guessing that Torres will want to stay upright, keep McDonald on the tip of his rangy jabs and counter powerfully at close range while backpedaling. Maintaining a comfortable cushion of space between them and avoiding entrapment in the cage corners should be his highest priority, and the opposite goes for McDonald. He'll have to crack the puzzle of Torres' range and get inside without exposing himself defensively. This means that the way he sets up his advances with angles, head movement, footwork and level changes will be imperative.
As reflected in the even betting lines, there is no question that this is the most challenging fight to predict on the card. In a way, one could argue that McDonald will pose the same problems that Johnson did, but do so with even better striking. On the other hand, one could also argue that Torres deserved the nod against Johnson and has the experience and intelligence to tweak his strategy accordingly. I'll admit that my logical side steers me toward the explosive quickness of McDonald's wrestling and boxing, but Torres, in addition to being a sentimental favorite, gets my vote for his length and wealth of offensive firepower.
My Prediction: Miguel Torres by split decision.