At the tender age of 19, Michael McDonald was the youngest fighter under the Zuffa umbrella, but he had an awful lot on his mind.
McDonald was brought in for his first and only WEC fight. Then his first UFC fight followed, and it was another victory for McDonald.
Now, at 20-years old, the former Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight champ is content with the direction his life is headed. But not long ago McDonald had a completely different outlook on life.
“One day when I was 19 I was standing in the corner of the gym and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to live,’ ” McDonald told MMADieHards.com. “I hit rock bottom emotionally. I’d wake up and not like myself, not because of my fighting, but because of the things I was doing outside of fighting. I was really miserable.”
McDonald admits that it took reaching that point to realize how to find happiness. People pushed religion on him, which forced McDonald to neglect it. But once he understood what he was looking for, he says it was God who helped him find it.
“I was raised in an idealistic church where God is this iron-fisted tyrant who will kill you if you do anything wrong,” McDonald explained. “People do it just because they’re supposed do it. They live 80 years miserably then die, and you still might go to hell. That’s what I thought religion was, and walked away from it. It wasn’t making me happy.
“People always say that God talked to them; well, he never spoke to me up until one day I got that word from God saying, ‘I love you,’ telling me, ‘I’m going to give you some happiness, some joy,’ and that’s the first time I heard him speak to me. When he did, I was happy for no reason and I felt loved. I thought I should give this religion thing another try. Some people may call me crazy, but now God is someone I can talk to like a father and a friend to me, not just some allegiance.”
McDonald’s been competing in martial arts at a high level the better part of his life, and there were times he had to sacrifice what his friends were doing so he could become a better martial artist. McDonald is more mature than an average man of 20 from having major responsibilities as a teenager. As much as he appreciates those experiences now, they almost drove him to quit in the past.
“I never really fit in with my age group,” McDonald admitted. “I grew up very fast. I skipped being a teenager; I kind of went from being a kid to being an adult. For a while I didn’t know how to deal with fighting at a very high level of competition and being highly respected in a very powerful position. I was too young to know how to deal with all of that, so I became angry and held a grudge. I was angry at my parents and fighting because I didn’t get a teenage life. I didn’t get to hang out with my buddies on Saturday nights, I couldn’t get out of school and hang out with friends, and it made me unhappy for a long time.
“Before the Cole Escovedo fight that I lost, I was actually considering not fighting anymore because it wasn’t making me happy, the pressures of dealing with all the responsibilities and the things fighting caused me to miss out on. But, that loss knocked some sense into me and made me realign everything and shun off all the people putting pressure on me. I just want to be a normal kid, but every normal kid just wants to be me. They want to do something significant and special. That’s when I realized I don’t have to do this; I chose to fight, so I don’t have to do this for anyone but me.”
McDonald’s newfound happiness came at a perfect time. In the past 10 months his life has been a successful journey in MMA, albeit a hectic, yet exceptionally pleasurable expedition.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” said McDonald. “I always expected to go to the WEC, so I knew it was going to come eventually, but when the WEC called me it was like a breath of fresh air. But, when my manager called me and said ‘Hey, you’re going to be fighting in the UFC, your first fight is in three months,’ that was a little mind-boggling.”
McDonald returns to the Octagon on Saturday at UFC 130, and he is set to scrap former WEC fighter Chris Cariaso. McDonald was called in to replace Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, and at first there was some hesitation on “Mayday’s” part. But once he knew his mind was content with the idea, McDonald accepted.
“I have been watching Cariaso for a couple of years, but I didn’t want to get overanxious to fight him,” McDonald explained. “I got call from a close friend about taking the fight. The person said that they think I should take it, but do I think I believe I can beat Chris Cariaso. The more I thought about it, the more I felt good about it. I really felt in my heart that this is what I should be doing. I am mentally prepared to fight Chris Cariaso. I called my manager back and said, ‘Hey, you didn’t tell UFC no, yet?’ He said no, and I told him I want that fight.
“The biggest factor for me is when I’m mentally prepared. At the gym in the past I would be fooling around and my teammates and brother would be kicking me in the butt saying, ‘Get in there, you got a fight to train for.’ I’ve gotten in fight mode within the matter of a week. It’s just always about where my head is at, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting on the couch eating donuts, as long as I’m mentally prepared and motivated. Like if I’m going to get married and that’s the biggest thing in my life at the moment, I’m not going to fight because that’s not what’s on my mind.”
McDonald has his mentality straight heading into this bout, plus he believes his skills are slightly better than Cariaso’s, even though Cariaso is good at what he does. But for McDonald, a lot of it is about style.
“I think stylistically I match up really well with Chris,” McDonald said. “He does his style really well. His speed is a big thing to tackle, his distance and movement is really good, too. I have a reach advantage and a size advantage, so taking into account that the things he likes to do as far as striking, I love to counter. I have a higher rank in jiu-jitsu than him and I think I wrestle better than him. It’s just a good style for me to fight, but he does his style very well.”
McDonald may not be the showcase attraction on pay-per-view cards yet, but the Oakdale MMA team member is relieved of some stress now that he will be fighting on a social media monster. Instead of trying to explain to people where they can watch him fight, he can now simply say he’s on Facebook.
“I think it’s awesome,” McDonald said. “It takes the stress off me when there’s a way for people to watch it. People are always asking when I fight and if I’m going to get a tape and make copies. It’s a stress reliever to just say, ‘It’s on Facebook, leave me alone.’ ”
McDonald has made peace with himself and learned how to manage the pressures and responsibilities that come with his occupation. Although his occupation is his hobby, he will be around for a long time if he can keep fighting fun.
“I’m not neglecting my family life and my personal life for fighting,” McDonald confessed. “I’ve got a great girlfriend, I love my family and fighting is something I am going to do all my life, as long as it makes me happy. I’m not Michael ‘Mayday’ anymore. I am Michel Robert McDonald and fighting is something I like to do. I’m just fortunate I get to do it as my job.”