Mixed martial arts is a ruthless machine.
Often known to chew fighters up and spit them out, the sport has become a barbaric landscape of unpredictability and limited recourse. Due to its violent and unforgiving nature, MMA forces its combatants to stay active in a dominating fashion.
Despite elite skill sets, undeniable resumes and unparalleled potential, even some of the best fighters in the world are forced back down the divisional ladder when left in idle. To no fault of their own, these rising title threats are cast aside following a decisive loss, debilitating injury or sexier options within the weight class.
Former UFC bantamweight top contender Michael “Mayday” McDonald is the perfect example to this harsh reality that’s eerily synonymous with beauty.
At one point in time, the now 24-year-old was considered one of the very best prospects in the sport. With experience beyond his years, knockout power in a division stacked with pillow punchers and a humble outlook on competing at the professional level, McDonald represented the very best that the smaller weight classes had to offer.
After starting his UFC career with four-straight victories, including vicious finishes of former WEC champion Miguel Torres and Alex Soto, the California native rightfully earned a shot at the vacant interim belt opposite Renan Barao at UFC on Fuel TV 7. But despite holding his own on the feet against one of the more explosive strikers in the sport, McDonald succumbed to the Brazilian’s ground game and lost via fourth-round submission.
The defeat was certainly devastating, especially for a fighter as young as “Mayday,” but forcing to tap by the will of one of the best in the world is a humbling experience for anyone. McDonald’s fortunes would continue to fluctuate when he lost to Urijah Faber via guillotine choke at UFC on FOX 9 after dismantling Brad Pickett by way of submission at UFC Fight Night 26.
Needless to say, the young up-and-comer had suffered a few setbacks on his way toward UFC gold. But it was McDonald’s hapless inability to stay healthy that truly threw his career for a loop entering 2014. From hand surgeries to wrist injuries, the knockout specialist was thrust into a life of rehabilitating his most useful Octagon tools.
On the cusp of a comeback in 2016, “Mayday” has recaptured the attention his performances once demanded. He has seemingly overcome all of the physical ailments that left him collecting dust for more than two years. But the reinvented finisher will be returning to a division that looks completely different compared to when he left in 2013. This includes new champion T.J. Dillashaw, a healthy Dominick Cruz and top contenders like Thomas Almeida and Aljamain Sterling prying for title shots.
Scheduled to take on Japanese veteran Masanori Kanehara on UFC 195’s prelim card, McDonald will have the opportunity to reassert himself into the mix at 135 pounds. With some of the best knockout power south of lightweight, the 24-year-old is more than capable of punching his way towards the top. Receiving an un-ranked opponent who is coming off a loss in his return to the Octagon sheds some light on what the UFC may have planned for McDonald moving forward.
As one of the more talented fighters gracing one of the more shallow divisions, the promotion should understand McDonald’s worth entering the what could be the biggest year of his career. But considering his long absence from competition, and recovering from multiple injuries, allowing him to fight a mid-tier opponent is the best course of action at this point.
However — and this goes hand-in-hand with McDonald’s knack for finishing fights with one single strike — “Mayday” can easily position himself for a title shot by the end of 2016. A lot is going to depend on whether or not the UFC likes the idea of Faber fighting for another bantamweight title, if Sterling’s recent free agent plunge will result in his promotional departure, or if Dillashaw vs. Cruz at UFC Fight Night 81 in January warrants an immediate rematch, but there’s no reason why McDonald can’t lock down at least a No. 1 contender’s bout by this time next year.
If McDonald can win in dramatic fashion at UFC 195, matchmaker Joe Silva may even opt to pin him against Almeida in order to produce the next guy in line.