By Gareth A Davies
The Daily Telegraph
UFC headliner Michael McDonald makes bespoke cabinets and furniture, but the 22-year-old Californian is also on course to become the youngest champion in the 20-year history of the mixed martial arts organization.
McDonald has an unshakeable self-belief, revealing that his father, for example, who is not a fighter, features heavily in his planning and strategy.
Turning wood as a joiner will be replaced by turning the screw on Renan Barao, the Brazilian who holds the UFC’s ‘interim’ bantamweight title at present, the champion Dominick Cruz having sustained a long-term injury.
The headline act at Wembley Arena on Saturday night pitching Barao, who has 31 fights, one loss, and one of the longest winning streaks anywhere across the history of MMA, against McDonald, with sixteen fights, also one loss, is as competitive a title fight anywhere across the UFC roster at present.
McDonald is a blend of the sublime and at times, downright bizarre. Yet he is young, incredibly mature, refreshing, God-fearing, and very, very different.
In a sport known for throwing up unusual characters, McDonald gets top billing. Growing up, he was very analytical. “I was the kid that was off in a corner picking things apart and putting them back together. I was never really a fighter.”
“It wasn’t something I was interested in. I don’t like hurting people. I was always very analytical, always very interested in theories and philosophies.”
“In my view, most people, once they get to a certain level, put a hold on their mind which is the worst thing. They say now I’m at this level I’m not going to try, I’m not going to learn I’m not going to listen to you.”
“I think that’s the way I understood things at a young age. That my mind can never stop growing. And the day that my mind stops growing – when I stop progressing – that’s when I’m not a good martial arts anymore.”
His attitude makes him sound like he has a workaholic zeal. “I’m not a workaholic. I do carpentry, and fighting. I’m training, or teaching classes at the gym and I have a little carpentry shop.”
“I filled up a two-car garage with a whole bunch of equipment. It started off as a hobby and I had bills to pay, so I started a wood shop. I love woodworking.
“I’ve built custom furniture and cabinets, designed some kitchens, I created a custom bed with six compartments,” he explained.
This is the first trip outside the United States for McDonald, who has been called a ‘new generation’ fighter in the sport.
“I don’t know about this whole ‘new generation’ thing … when I look at the people leading it I think of people like me, and Jon Jones and Rory MacDonald. When I look at them, I actually don’t see somebody who has trained martial arts their whole life. Or someone who has trained all of the arts in equal weight.”
“What I actually see is someone who completely understands martial arts and how they come together, not just ‘this is my style and I think this is working’.
I see someone who completely understands what works in every situation and knows how to use it in different situations. ‘Very adaptable with no style’, I’d call it.
There is no main style. We understand everything and we can use it all when we need to.”
He’s up against a very formidable opponent in Renan Barao. “I do and I don’t study his style. I take a different approach to my opponents than most people. For one, people primarily consider themselves athletes. I do not.
“I primarily consider myself a martial artist and martial arts comes first. Athletics comes second. Another thing that I do is I actually customise myself very, very minimally for each fight.”
He relies on his father’s judgment and planning against other fighters, in spite of his father not being involved in the fight industry, or having never had a contest.
“My Dad, Robert, has never been in an MMA fight, he’s never trained, and he doesn’t know the exact techniques and how we do them.”
“He’s a mechanic. But from a mindset standpoint, he understands it incredibly well, even more than some of the people who have been inside a cage,” McDonald told me.
“His thinking and the way he processes things are very detailed and methodical. He sticks to methods that work and never strays from them.
When I speak to him about fights I value his opinion because usually he’s correct.”
“I’ve always considered my mind to be a weapon and I feel like I have a very similar mind to my father.”
“The mindset is one hundred per cent where it lies and where it should lie. A lot of people say that ‘you’re either a fighter or you’re not a fighter’ but I don’t agree. I see the mind as pliable. I see it as you’re able to form it you’re able to shape it, it has unlimited potential.”
“People take their bodies and they push their bodies to the limit and their bodies have a set limit that it cannot push itself past. When you push yourself to that bodily limit you’re stuck there.”
“The mind never fluctuates. And my mind doesn’t fluctuate, it has unlimited potential. The smarter you get you realise how dumb you were.” Bizarre. But true. Watch McDonald fight. It’s worth it.