The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the States after last weekend’s showing in Sweden with the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia hosting UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans this Saturday night. Journeyman “The Natural” John Alessio (34-10) returns to the UFC for the fourth time to challenge Jiu-Jitsu artist Mark Bocek (10-4). “The Filipino Phenom” Eddie Yagin (15-5-1) will match up against fellow featherweight “The Machine” Mark Hominick (20-10). Heavyweight action graces Atlanta when “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (8-2) stands opposite IFL veteran “Big” Ben Rothwell (31-8). The welterweight division is bound for a change in scenery when “Ares” Rory MacDonald (12-1) meets British sensation “Beautiful” Che Mills (14-4) in the co-main event. Closing out the night is a long-awaited fight as friends-turned-foes collide as current light heavyweight champion “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1) takes on another former champ in “Suga” Rashad Evans (17-1-1). Bantamweight action anchors the main card with “Mayday” Michael McDonald (14-1) battling former WEC 135lbs. king “Angel” Miguel Torres (40-4). McDonald has been making serious waves in what is considered a young career while the tested Torres has always been a big dog in the bantamweight division’s yard. McDonald has the weapons needed to get the job done but Saturday night will be presented his stiffest challenge to date.
At First Glance: The bout between the younger Michael McDonald and seasoned Miguel Torres has serious implications in regards to each fighter’s respective career. Torres is a 12-year veteran of the sport and while in many cases that would see a fighter already past his professional peak, “Angel” is in prime position to make a run for the title. With current champ “The Dominator” Dominick Cruz (19-1) and “The California Kid” Urijah Faber (26-5) constantly warring and disparaging possible contenders and the lighter flyweight class luring those who remain to come down a weight class, a decisive victory over McDonald could shoot him well into possible title contention. McDonald though at 21-years-old has shown in his three UFC performance that he has the skills, grit, and hunger that sets him apart from the rest of the division. If he can get past a veteran such as Torres with conviction, he will be primed to see the elite of the 135-pound class.
In Depth: For being one of the youngest fighters in the organization’s roster, McDonald bring a well-rounded skillset that is heavily built on a kickboxing foundation. “Mayday’s” first two performances in the UFC Octagon showcased his versatility as he was able to display superb striking, solid wrestling, and a credible understanding of Jiu-Jitsu against “Kamikaze” Chris Cariaso (13-3) and “El Feroz” Edwin Figueroa (9-1). However, one of McDonald’s career highlights came recently at UFC 139 where he was able to display his knockout power upon Alex Soto (6-1) with a flurry of punches initiated by a well-timed overhand right in only 56 seconds of the first stanza. McDonald will have to bring his A-game besides youthful vigor with him when he stands across the cage from the vastly more experienced Miguel Torres. As a black belt under the late Carlson Gracie, Jr., Torres reigned supreme in the WEC bantamweight division with his ground game as the blueprint to success. While he was fairly proficient standing, it was not until his first knockout loss via Brian Bowles (10-2) that Torres revamped his stand-up game. The hard work showed after he made the jump into the UFC with clean sweeps over Antonio Banuelos (20-8) and Nick Pace (6-3) thanks to lengthy jabs and improved combinations of both punches and kicks. With over ten years experience and nearly 30 fights over his opponent, Torres is at a definite advantage over the young up-and-comer. Understandably, Torres will rule the ground should the fight go there and likewise McDonald should control the fight if standing. Yet with a considerable 6-inch reach advantage and more time spent in the cage, Torres can use his refined striking to keep McDonald at bay, close in on the clinch to land solid knees and elbows, and find room to maneuver if he feels too pressured. McDonald is no slouch once he can land his shot but against a veteran like Torres, the real issue will be how soon can he find and exploit it without giving up any opportunities for his elder to capitalize.
Wild Card: Composure on behalf of both men is the X-factor to be considered. Torres has seen it all in his career and in turn should be able to change his game plan accordingly to what McDonald offers. Already at 21-years-old, McDonald is proving that while being one of the more powerful bantamweights he also is one of the most well-rounded. Though his shootouts with Figueroa and Cariaso are memorable, Torres will not so easily play along. Failing to land a clean strike could pressure McDonald to seek the clinch or takedown that in turn lends him well into Torres’ superior ground game which, on paper, does not leave much for him to look forward to. As for Torres, while his stand-up is remarkably improving to compliment his Jiu-Jitsu, if he cannot utilize his reach well enough or secure a takedown, he might revert to his old habits of charging in and swinging. This mentality lead to his losses to Joseph Benavidez (16-2) and notably Brian Bowles. With the hungry prospect in McDonald and tenured veteran in Torres, their skills will get the job done but it will play largely in part to who has the cooler head.
The Verdict: McDonald has already put up three phenomenal performances within his stay in the UFC and with the pace he is setting, he might see a title belt around his waist in due time. What might be the monkey wrench in his operations Saturday night is that Torres is an entirely different level of fighter than what he has previously seen. Considering both men are able to fight in every aspect, the fighter who has bulk and experience on their side should be able to dictate how the fight handles. McDonald might falter for the first time within the Octagon, but he is hungry enough to make even a former champion work for the victory. Torres via Unanimous Decision