This weekend's event has somewhat caught me short because I have spent the majority of the last few days pushing out pieces by request of the BE community as part of my farewell series. While this is certainly a decent fight I thought it best to examine both fighters in brief and the factors at play on the feet (where both prefer to be) rather than attempt a Killing the King for Renan Barao who many consider to be the Bantamweight champion only in Dominick Cruz's absence.
I apologize for the hurried nature of this piece but hopefully I can give a quick outline of what to look for in the bout.
Michael McDonald's Counter Punching
The criticism I had seen from fans before setting out and watching McDonald's fight videos was that he has huge power but can be a little too easy to hit at times. Having reviewed the footage I can say that he certainly isn't the slickest technical striker and he lacks the kind of reactions which keep many of the more defensively sound fighters out there safe. He can be given trouble by fighters who are willing to bounce around and offer him feints - due to his love of countering he can be made a little hesitant to counter if he is unsure about the opponent's intentions. Miguel Torres showed this in their fight with flashes of his jab. Though McDonald was continuously trying to counter punch, he certainly didn't want to show all of his cards by swinging at every move Miguel made - so occasionally he would fail to react and eat a stiff jab.
McDonald does make up for his occasionally getting poked with long punches with his wilting power in exchanges and his excellent ability to get in close and into brawls. Initiating with a counter punch, McDonald swarms on his opponents in close, removing any advantage they may have in polished stand up technique at range.
Against Miguel Torres, McDonald defused Torres' boxing technique by ducking jabs and following with a hard right uppercut. He attempted this counter numerous times throughout the fight, swarming on Torres after countering. The fight was in fact ended by one such uppercut landing cleanly, but with one punch knockouts aside as a means of getting into range to flurry punches on an opponent it is a valuable tool in gap closing.
The interesting part of this counterpunching but struggling with being caught on the end of a jab is that Renan Barao has Bantamweight's tightest jab. Lancing, well protected by the lead shoulder rear hand, and thrown with great timing, Barao's jab may be his best asset - even above the low kicks for which he is so well known.
Barao took Scott Jorgensen apart with jabs on the outside. Though McDonald is equally uncomfortable at jabbing range, he has much better evasive movement and distance closing methods than Jorgensen. In the second still Barao's head is in front of his hips, this could be distastrous is he allows McDonald the opportunity to use his uppercut counter.
A second intriguing point in this match up is McDonald's love of countering kicks by stepping in with punches as his opponent is on one leg. Because in MMA kicks are generally poorly set up, and many fighters fail to keep their hands up while they are kicking, smothering kicks with punches is an excellent method of securing a knockdown. Igor Vovchanchyn and Fedor Emelianenko did it against almost all of the kickers they faced. McDonald's knockout of Alex Soto was both brutal and an excellent example of how off guard many fighters are when they kick.
McDonald attempted the same thing against Miguel Torres the first time that Torres attempted a kick and it served as a deterrent from kicking for the rest of the fight.
This is intriguing because Barao, unlike Jose Aldo whom he is so often compared with, generally does not set up his kicks at all well. He can also be guilty of keeping his hands down when he kicks. It is through his great sense of distancing and timing than he can kick like this and still go unpunished, but whether McDonald - who loves to push forward and take the centre of the octagon - can fluster Barao into throwing kicks from too close in will decide how effective these counter punches are.
Barao kicking without set up or guard against Brad Pickett.
Barao kicking as Jorgensen punches and narrowly avoiding eating a right hand.
The final wild card at play in this bout is Renan Barao's desire to brawl. if he keeps McDonald at range with long kicks and jabs all evening he could slow and outclass the younger man, but when Barao starts to throw power punches he gets wild and sloppy. One need only look at his bout with Brad Pickett - as soon as Barao started throwing his right hand he began eating punches on his jawline. Barao has one of the most polished jabs in the division but when he squares up to throw power shots his hands drop, his shoulders leave his jawline and he starts to swing wild.
A final point worth making is that while McDonald has some excellent counters and great power for a Bantamweight - he lacks dexterity with his left hand. He will throw out meaningless jabs which do nothing to affect the opponent or worse still get countered - and while he can hit with his left hand it normally connects on the guard of his opponents as a clumsy swing - lacking the finish of his dexterous and accurate right hand.
On the feet this bout seems to come down to good offense against good counter offense in Renan Barao and Michael McDonald respectively. Unfortunately for McDonald he is a counter puncher who lacks great defense - the threat of the counter punch seeming to be most of what paralyses his opponents against him. Barao has one of the best jabs out there right now and if he keeps tight form and respects the power and opportunism that McDonald carries, he could make the younger man look out of sorts.
But Barao's kicks have every chance of leading him into trouble against one of the few fighters in the sport still exploiting the low level kicking IQ of even top level MMA fighters. Ultimately as with every bout containing a power puncher, the success of Barao relies on his respecting and understanding the danger of getting lazy against McDonald. This isn't the Urijah Faber breed of fighter who will simply stand at range and throw the right hand at every opportunity - this is someone who looks for specific counters to set up flurries and periods of roughing smaller men up in close.
Of course I have no idea how the bout will play out and make no predicitions, but will be watching the bout with as much excitement and anticipation as everyone else.