It was three months ago when Michael McDonald broke into mainstream MMA consciousness. Despite a long winning streak, it was a quick and devastating knockout of Miguel Torres that announced him as a major player at the top of the UFC's bantamweight division, so much so that when champion Dominick Cruz was injured and forced out of a title fight, McDonald's name was floated about as a possible replacement. As it turns out, McDonald wasn't ready. A lingering hand injury had worsened to the point that surgery was needed, and Renan Barao moved into the slot.
Meanwhile, McDonald (15-1) is on the mend, and if the UFC decides to have Barao defend the interim belt, McDonald's name will probably be in the mix once again. That's just fine with McDonald, a mature 21-year-old who says while he's not willing to call out Barao or anyone else, he'll be ready for whatever challenge comes his way.
"The way I go about it is very simple," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It could be pretty much summed up as, look at the top six, and I could be fighting anyone in the top six. It depends who the UFC wants to put at No. 1, and everything revolves around that, and who they want the two people fighting for the title to be. It's not my decision or place to decide when or who does it. I just know that there are six people around that number I could be fighting. At all times, I have about six people on my radar I'm looking to fight and whoever the UFC throws in out of that six, that’s who I fight."
McDonald said that Barao is one of the names he's interested in. The others? Cruz, Urijah Faber, Scott Jorgensen, Mike Easton, Eddie Wineland and Brian Bowles.
His refusal to call out Barao in any traditional sense of the phrase isn't any indication of fear on his part. Nor is it a sign that he believes he's unready for the move towards the top. While he acknowledges that Barao boasts certain skills he can't match, he feels the inverse is true when it comes to some of his own strengths. And because of it, if UFC matchmaker Joe Silva calls his number and offers the fight with Barao, he's jumping on the opportunity.
"I feel like I’m good enough, yes," he said. "I feel like I can. I can do it. If I didn’t feel like I could compete with these guys, I honestly wouldn't be here right now. I was very cautious and picked my career very well, to make sure I can compete at the level I’m at. So of course, I do believe I can compete with those guys."
Right now, McDonald will still focus on healing up his hand, which he says he's had issues with following every fight over the last two years. Each time, he's needed one to two months of rest before he could train again. Three weeks after knocking out Torres, he tried to get back in the gym but found himself in serious pain.
Due to that as well as the looming jump towards the top of the division and its top athletes, the decision was made to fully address the issue, and he underwent surgery. McDonald said that if his rehabilitation goes according to plan, he should be able to start punching within one month.
That means that a potential November or December return for him is not out of the question. That could line up perfectly with a potential Barao interim title defense while Cruz continues his own rehab. Or, perhaps the UFC will match him up with someone else on his list. Either way is fine with him. He knows he still has critics to placate, and whether he does it against top five opposition, or the very best the division has to offer, he understands the future tasks at hand.
"When I look at my career from an outside view, I've only fought one top 10 guy. Yeah, I’ve had quite a few fights in the UFC, but I've only had one top 10 fight, against Miguel Torres," he said. "I think I’m ready but I've only had one top 10 fight. Look at these other guys who've been in the top 10 for so long. Brian Bowles, Eddie Wineland, Scott Jorgensen -- those guys have been top 10 for years. I’ve only been in the top 10 for 6-8 months. That’s why I don't know for sure. I think I’m ready if UFC wants to put me there, but looking at an outside perspective of what seems right for just my career, that’s why I would say I’m not going to go out and call them out right now."