UFC prospect talks life, living and loving martial arts
Michael McDonald approaches the fight game a little differently than most.
Part of that is probably due to his age and the fact that McDonald has spent most of his entire life training, in some form or another, for a career in fighting. The Modesto native started kickboxing when he was just ten years old.
A fighter? That would come later. Back then, he had no real desire to get punched in the face. Come to think of it, he still doesn’t have much of a desire to get punched in the face, but he’s long since accepted it as part of the job.
Fighting is the only job that McDonald knows. He turned pro at sixteen years old, a leap of faith that instantly put plenty of pressure on his shoulders. He readily admits to feeling the weight. He was expected to support and help his team at the gym, a role he wasn’t quite suited for, and it was more than he could handle.
He took solace in his then-girlfriend and moved away from home in an attempt to find a life outside the one others were living through him. She was his escape, and he was looking for a way out of the pressures and responsibilities that go along with being a fighting wonder kid. He wanted to focus on something else, something besides getting punched in the head, and figured that moving away would do the trick.
But these things rarely work out for teenagers, and it was no different for McDonald. He moved back home with his family and resumed his role as the big dog at the gym. But this time around he set some ground rules.
“I had to put it in perspective with my team and say that I’m doing this because I want to do it. If I can help you guys in the process along the way, great, but never doing it for anyone else again,” McDonald recalls. “I can’t fight for other people.”
You get the sense that McDonald is wise beyond his years, which is not to say that there are no smart teenagers out in the world, because there most certainly are. In the fight game, though, they are a rare find. Young fighters tend to get into the game because they’re a little off-kilter. They’re angry at their parents. They come from troubled towns. Fighting gives them a chance to channel the attention-deficit disorder that plagues them in the classroom.
McDonald is different. From an early age, he wanted to be a martial artist in the truest sense of the word. Fighting and getting punched in the face isn’t something he’ll ever enjoy, just as he doesn’t enjoy all of the things that go along with being a UFC fighter and television personality.
“I have questioned many times if I want to be a fighter for the rest of my life. I’ve never once questioned if I wanted to be a martial artist. I knew that I would be a martial artist until the day that I die. But being a professional fighter? That’s a whole different story.
“For me, it’s not so much the love of fighting. For me, the love that keeps me going is being a martial artist. The whole fighter deal, that’s my job. Doing interviews when I had a horrible day. Having to be the center of attention when I want to relax. Fighting on TV. That’s a lot of pressure and it’s a hard thing to do. I try to enjoy that part when I can, but it’s my job.”
Mixed martial arts – and any other sport, really – is a goal-oriented thing. Fighters will tell you until they’re blue in the face that they want to be a champion, that they want to be the best fighter in the world, and maybe they do. For a time, McDonald was cut from the same cloth as everyone else in the fight game. But unlike nearly everyone else in the fight game, his goals have changed as he’s progressed from a teenager learning the art to a legitimate bantamweight prospect.
“I don’t need to accomplish something to define my worth. I’m going to do this sport because I love it. I don’t need to get something so that I can be personally satisfied with myself. I just want to love the sport. I have no goals that are works-based. I want a clean living. I want to be able to create a steady income for me and my future family. I want to help my current family. I want to be happy.”
These are rare words from a fighter – much less a fighter who was born in the 1990’s – but they’re the kind of words that sets McDonald apart from the rest of the crowd.
He’s not seeking fame or glory, but his prodigious talent will likely earn him both.