At the age of 20, Michael “Mayday” McDonald has grown up fast.
He was fighting amateur mixed martial arts bouts at fourteen years old and turned pro at the age of sixteen.
“I never woke up and had this epiphany or great understanding and clarity and thought I wanted to be a fighter. It was never like that,” McDonald recently told Heavy.com.
“It was kind of like, hey, do you want to start kickoboxing? Yeah, sure, I guess. And then, hey, do you want to announce your kickboxing fight? Sure. Do you want to do grappling? No. But my brother made me do it anyway. It just kind of progressed, and by the time I was sixteen years old I was as good as all the professionals that we had at the gym. It just became something that I really enjoyed. I just fell in love with it gradually,” he said.
The bantamweight makes his UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 24 against Edwin Figueroa. He fought one time in the WEC, defeating Clint Godfrey by submission before the organization was folded over into the UFC.
When he got the call from is manager telling him he’d be fighting in the UFC, McDonald was skeptical.
“When my manager called me and said congratulations, you’re going to be fighting in the UFC, I was like, what are you talking about? When he said that I was like, did you get me into an Ultimate Fighter where I’ll fight two weight classes above or what?
“He was like, no. They had a merger and you’re going to be fighting in the UFC. I was just like, oh my gosh. I could not believe it,” said “Mayday.”
Fighting in the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world almost didn’t happen for McDonald.
“I’m glad that I stayed here because I was almost going to go to Japan and fight for DREAM because they pay a little bit more money down there for the fights. I was going to do that, but I chose the WEC instead,” revealed McDonald.
“The biggest thing for me was I was always kind of questioning it whether I would make a good living for myself and my future family doing this sport because the lower weight fighters get nothing compared to the heavier weight fighters. Very few people at the lighter weight classes make enough money to actually make it, so I was very concerned with that.”
McDonald has an 11-1 record and is the former Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight titleholder, but there was a time when he didn’t know if he wanted to fight anymore.
“Being fourteen years old, then sixteen years old and being one of the front runners at a highly regarded professional team, being one of the head instructors at sixteen years old and eighteen years old; that’s a lot of power. There was a time when I didn’t know how to deal with that, just the pressures. I didn’t want this sport anymore. I didn’t want it. It took me until I got my face kicked in by Cole Escovedo the first time we fought to really focus on why am I doing this,” he said.
Those around him viewed McDonald as a protégé. In fact, it would have been his nickname if B.J. Penn didn’t already use it. But the pressure and high expectations nearly proved too much for the teenager at the time. By the time he was eighteen, McDonald was already feeling burned out.
“It wasn’t that I was tired of working out or anything like that. The biggest thing for me was I didn’t have a teenage life. I went straight from a kid to an adult,” he said.
“I didn’t get to do the school functions and anything like that, and sometimes I just wanted to be a normal kid. I did kind of get burned out, not with just fighting, but with missing out on some things that I wanted to do. That’s what burned me out, and I wanted an escape. I wanted to get away from fighting because it was no longer something loved. It was something that took away from my life. It was a burden.
“I had hundreds of people relying on me that if I lost they were going to be disappointed. It was going to hurt them if I lost. It felt like that, and all these pressures that I didn’t need,” added McDonald.
“I had a lot of people leaning on me and a lot of people looking at me and expecting me to perform. That kind of pressure and that kind of power at sixteen, a kid that age doesn’t know how to deal with that. I didn’t know how to deal with that.”
Finding God was a turning point for McDonald.
“What set me back on track where I needed to be was just realizing why I fight and just being a happier person in general was finding Christ and straightening out my life the way it should be. When I’m happy and I’m motivated, I’m a very, very hard person to deal with.”
McDonald’s UFC Fight Night 24 bout with Figueroa will stream live Saturday on the UFC’s Facebook page.