As the old saying goes, 'dance with the one that brought you'. UFC bantamweight Michael McDonald certainly believes that. Sure, he's had to adapt here or there. Everyone changes a little bit, right? That's just normal. But the strategy that got you to the big show and the team who was with you when you arrived? McDonald thinks letting go of those life lynchpins isn't the wisest of decisions.
Case in point: McDonald's next fight. In the mind of McDonald - who faces the stiffest test of his career when he squares off against former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres at UFC 145 - Torres is talented, but he's not as lethal as he used to be. "I don't know if he's as dangerous as he once was, but I think he's the same fighter if that makes any sense," the burgeoning prospect told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. And why is that the case? To McDonald, it's because he's been changing too many things about his life and training after getting knocked out by Brian Bowles at WEC 42.
"You might get knocked out once," McDonald explained, "He had 30 freaking wins or more - give or take - on one style. He gets knocked out once and he changes the style and I think that's wrong. I think you need to stick with the style that got you where you are."
Those are some awfully strong sentiments for a fighter born in 1991. Sometimes it's easy to forget McDonald is only 21 years of age. That's typically the point in adulthood maturation where people are more willing to make claims about how the world is or should be despite lacking the wisdom of experience.
The again, maybe not. McDonald is anything but the typical know-it-all 21 year old kid. In fact, he makes his assertion about Torres on the back of his own devastating stoppage loss he suffered three years ago. McDonald views the episode as the wake up call he need to take the sport more seriously, but is adamant that radically changing himself in the process would've been detrimental. "It's like when I lost to Cole Escovedo," McDonald said, "I didn't go back and change my entire gameplan. I said, 'Ok, my wrestling sucks. I need to get better at it'. I'm not going to change my style. I just need to get better."
"I think it's horrible when people finally get knocked out one time and they decide to change everything," McDonald maintained. To him, a loss like that can be devastating, but that's the time to make adjustments, not upheavals. "I think it's a simple basic when you get knocked out. You didn't have your hands up. Period. That's it."
McDonald will get a chance to prove if consistency is the key to success in MMA or if Torres' evolutions and personal revolutions have undone what was already good this weekend. And for the burgeoning bantamweight prospect, facing Torres is something he's wanted for quite some time.
"I've wanted to fight Miguel for a really long time, but it's not like a personal thing. I think he's good, but I think I'm better. I'd like to fight him to see if I really am," McDonald said.
But why Torres? Of all bantamweights, how did the man with the mullet come to get singled out? McDonald explains his logic: "I wanted to fight him when I saw him fight Manny Tapia. You see someone at first and you think they're invincible. You see Miguel Torres with his crazy record and you see him beat the crap out of Chase Beebe in a minute or I don't even know how long it was, storm on to the track and everyone think he's incredible."
"And then you see him in a war and you start to see how they're human. You start to say, 'I think I can beat this guy'. That's how it started for me. Everyone was saying he's the best and I thought that I could beat him as soon as I saw him in some longer fights. Ever since that day I wanted to fight both of those guys, Manny Tapia and Miguel Torres. I actually got the chance about a year after I saw that fight to fight Manny and I got that fight. Now it seems like it's the perfect storm for that next one."
For Torres' part, he is respectful of McDonald's ability and cognizant of the challenge, but isn't so sure his opponent isn't a little wet behind the ears. When told of Torres' intention to show McDonald 'what's what' and prove veteran experience matters, McDonald again defied the tendencies of his 21-year old cohorts. There was no lashing out or angry response.
"I find it to be trash talk that's cheap," he said. "You hear everyone on the planet talk a good game and not sit here and say, 'oh, I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna do that'. I'm going to talk tactics. I'm going to talk martial arts. I'm going to talk reality and let other people talk whatever they want. I'm not going to say 'I'm going to go in there and knock Miguel Torres out, I'm going to show him I'm real' because that's just cheap."
"I'll just talk tactics. I'll talk what I really think matters, which is martial arts . A game of speech has to be a body. That's the bottom line: the better martial artist will win."
Is McDonald the better martial artist? Even he doesn't know. No one does and McDonald won't assert something he can't prove with words. But as long as he fights like he has been - or maybe just a little bit better - and his familiar friends and coaches are in his corner on Saturday night, he'll be the first to tell you he likes his chances.
"I can only back it up in the fight. If I do it, then I'll do it. But I don't know to see say it, because if I say it and don't do it, then I'll look like a moron. I would rather just leave it be. Words like that are best left unsaid."
How can McDonald already know the right things to say? If he's not impressing you with his focus, he's surprising you with his deference. McDonald might be the wisest 21-year old in MMA. And after Saturday night, he might be on it's best bantamweights, too. He'll just need to dance with the one that brought him there.