Now we’re back in the swing of things, four days removed from Sweden’s solid event on Fuel and only a few more to go before Rashad Evans and Jon Jones finally get to bury the hatchet in each other’s faces at UFC 145. That soap opera season finale is not the only fight worth checking out either. Like with UFC on Fuel 2, Atlanta fans are getting treated to a thoroughly intriguing lineup of matches between highly capable guys, who match up well and come in close on the betting lines (with the exception of Evans’ bloated underdog odds). This makes picking the Fight of the Week a bit challenging, but not impossible.

I was torn between the main event, Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills and Miguel Torres vs. Michael McDonald. The latter seemed like a good choice between a crafty veteran looking to revive his momentum as one of the top fighters at bantamweight and a young, hungry lion wanting to prove he belongs in that same category. Despite being ten years apart in age, both Torres and McDonald are coming at the same crossroads, just from different directions.

Torres has his hand raised (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Torres, a former pound-for-pound and WEC bantamweight champion, is a 31-year-old mixed martial artist with over 40 professional bouts on his resume (only four of which he has lost) in need of rebounding from a shaking occupational hazard with Dana White over a poorly worded rape joke on Twitter that got him temporarily fired.

This is his second chance, at not only working in the UFC, but also, rebuilding his status as a dominant threat to whoever holds the belt he once defended in the WEC. At one point, he was the guy to beat, holding a perfect record between most of 2003-2009 before running headfirst into Brian Bowles fist at WEC 42.

Since that loss, Torres has dropped fights to Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson and garnered victories over Charlie Valencia, Antonio Banuelos, and most recently Nick Pace. The last couple of years have been shaky—from the perspective of a guy who holds a record of 40-4—but by no means irreversible. Torres has a chance to quell an up-and-coming firestarter—which a win should lead him to a top five opponent for his next bout—a great beginning to the second half of his prime years.

Needless to say, Torres’ current trajectory makes this a difficult task to complete. With 15 fights and only one (avenged) loss, 21-year-old Michael McDonald is one of the UFC’s most promising, rising stars with a few feathers in his own cap. He defeated Cole Escovedo for the Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight championship in 2010, got signed by the WEC at the age of 19—as the youngest Zuffa fighter ever—and has gone undefeated over his last seven bouts.

As a result, fighting somebody with name recognition like Torres is a big deal that can present an opportunity for McDonald to be thrown into the spotlight with a decisive win. Like his Mexican-mullet-sporting foe, the implications from this fight could set the youngster in the direction of being fast tracked to top billings with top ranked guys or back down to the drawing boards.

At the end of the night, it won’t be an easy fight for either guy, but it will be rewarding for he who can heart it out.

*Remember, this scoring system is based on how the fighters match up against each other*

Striking: Torres – 7, McDonald – 8.5

McDonald (L) connects with a right hand (Paul Thatcher/Fight!Magazine)

With eight of his 14 wins coming by way of knockout, McDonald should have a clear power edge, which compounds with the fact that Torres’ chin didn’t hold up well against Bowles’ power and he has shown penetrable boxing defense. Lacking impeccable movement and footwork, the more flat-footed—though surprisingly still a very dangerous attacker from angles—Torres is susceptible to counter striking.

Coming off a quick first-round knockout of Alex Soto at UFC 139, McDonald has displayed a good mixture of aggressive boxing with effective counter striking—something that should give Torres a great deal to worry about, considering the youngster’s last fight. Power aside, Torres tends to find success using his notorious reach advantage—something to be expected from a 5-foot-9 bantamweight—to create enough distance for his angular and creative stand up attacks. If his distance game is on, McDonald could leave this fight looking like BJ Penn at UFC 137.

Despite what appears to be an advantage over his less experienced foe, the longer Torres finds himself playing eight point roulette with McDonald, the more likely he’ll get clipped by McDonald’s heavy right hand—especially since the young prospect tends to be less cautious when it comes to trading blows. I like McDonald’s chances of getting inside and laying some leather on Torres the longer this fight stays standing.

The Clinch: Torres – 6, McDonald – 4

It’s doubtful Torres will spend much time close enough to utilize his lengthy leverage in the clinch in fears of getting tossed on his back. Also, working from a plum could invite powerful body shots and exit counter strikes from the stronger faster McDonald. Though Torres wouldn’t be helpless here, a lot of that threat could be minimized by his ability to use his Stretch Armstrong length to wrap up McDonald’s attempts to counter.

Should he decide to be aggressively reckless on the feet, we could see some damaging Torres knee strikes but it just seem unlikely this will be part of his game plan. Regardless, Torres’ long limbs and experience gives him the upper hand in the clinch if he wants to go there.

Ground Game: Torres – 9, McDonald – 7

Torres (bottom) looks for a triangle choke (Paul Thatcher/Fight!Magazine)

Torres should outclass his younger opponent in this area, showing better technique and a wider range of knowledge. Similar to McDonald’s chances of finishing this fight standing, Torres’ shot at ending it comes on the ground. He spent an extensive period of his earlier days being nurtured on the mat by legendary BJJ master Carlson Gracie. Out of his 40 victories, Torres has 23 submission finishes to his credit.

Even if Torres is fighting off his back with McDonald in his guard—a ground and pound liability thanks to a more explosive, harder-hitting opponent—it’s not the end of the world. Torres has a very busy guard, where he mobilizes his long limbs and can actively look for submissions and better positioning. Furthermore, of those 23 submission victories, eight came way of triangle chokes—the best option for guys with length advantages.

If Torres can get the fight to the ground, look for him to scramble well with McDonald, take his back for a rear-naked choke or a triangle choke off his own back.

Wrestling: Torres – 6.5, McDonald – 6.5

It’s a toss up as to who will trump the other  in this area. Torres has prior success taking his opponents down, but defensively speaking—especially against stockier, faster guys with their own shots—his sprawl has looked a little wobbly. The most recent example was against Demetrious Johnson, when Torres spent too much time staying on his back giving up dominant positions and points to who seemed to be the busier fighter.

McDonald’s wrestling is by no means on par with Johnson’s, but he can use his power and good take down timing to set Torres up—especially if he can be the aggressor and get Torres pinned against the cage. If his speed and power becomes an issue, Torres could very well spend 15 minutes on his back—not impressing judges—while McDonald pulls the trigger on his take downs all night. There’s no doubt Torres will be able to pop up for the first half of the fight; it all depends on his attrition and his sprawling effectiveness.

X-Factor

McDonald (Scott Petersen/MMA Weekly)

Torres’ experience fighting elite competition and McDonald’s lack thereof will play a huge factor in this fight. While McDonald has proven to be a highly touted prospect—in a division dying for fresh stars—his past record shows that Torres is the first elite opponent he will face in his career. And while that’s not necessarily a nail in the coffin, it does lessen his chances of surprising Torres with unpredictable stuff inside the cage.

Along with experience, look to see who comes out the fresher, more motivated fighter. Both guys have experienced less than ideal fighting conditions over the last couple of years. Torres has attributed his more recent losses to the fact that he was juggling a lot of non-professional baggage outside of the gym (actually inside a gym he was trying to run while training full time). Similarly, McDonald barely got by on a hard fought decision and split decision during his first two fights in the octagon, all due to competing with nagging injuries.

It’s anybody’s guess who will go beyond just saying they’re finally 100 percent and who will truly show it when the cage door closes.

Total: Torres – 28.5, McDonald – 26

Miguel Torres has given his fair share of blood for the sport (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Verdict: This has Fight of the Night written all over it. These two guys have plenty to prove at this juncture in their careers and both are tough gamers with enough desire and skill to make every area of this fight exciting. Torres appears to be a slight favorite for a reason and should pull off the victory on the ground, proving to be the more experienced war tested veteran, looking to regain his spot on top of the mountain. But, after everything has been said and analyzed, I like McDonald’s punching chances as the dark horse underdog, who can pull off the upset.

At the end of the day, I have to “respect the mullet” and predict Torres as the winner via third-round submission.

Top Photo: Michael McDonald (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

This piece was authored by Joe Schafer. You can find Joe on Twitter: @joeschafer84

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