Rated Next: Bright Future for Bantamweight Michael McDonald

Rating the next great crop of prospects from each division in MMA

My mind works in strange ways.

After witnessing a handful of breakout performances at UFC 129, I started thinking about which young talents are going to lead the UFC into the future. While many of the current crop of UFC champions and contenders are either in the midst of or just entering their primes, I can’t help but wonder who else will join them as the next generation to shine inside the Octagon.

Let me make one thing crystal clear up front: current title holders Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez will be at the forefront of this transition from the championship days of Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva.

For the champions I didn’t mention, that’s not a declaration of their inability to remain on top.

I think the world of Frankie Edgar, but with the freakish depth of talent in the lightweight division, I just don’t see a prolonged reign in store for anyone. With GSP and Silva, I think they’re two of the best ever, but will they be around three, four, or five years from now? My guess is no.

That leaves us with the quartet of champions already mentioned and only a handful of current UFC talents that look like they could join them in the future. I could be completely wrong about some of these guys, and totally miss on others; wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last time either.

There is bound to be one or two guys who come out of nowhere and rocket to stardom, but this series will highlight the fighters on the current UFC roster who look ready to become stars in the near future.

First up is the bantamweight division.

Rated Next: Michael McDonald (12-1)

When you stop and think about what “Mayday” has accomplished to this point in his career and project where he could get to in the future, its enough to make your head spin.

McDonald has already collected 12 wins in 13 fights, avenged the only loss of his career, and defeated a former WEC bantamweight title challenger, all before age 21.

Anyone else feel like a bit of an underachieving slacker right about now?

The Modesto, California native turned pro at age 16 and has made it to the sport’s biggest stage before being legally allowed to drink. After making quick work of Clint Godfrey in his WEC debut, McDonald showcased the skills that have led many to share my enthusiasm about his future during his first trip into the UFC Octagon.

At UFC Fight Night 24 in Seattle, McDonald put on an offensive clinic against Edwin Figueroa, showing improved hands along with the slick ground game that has become his calling card. The duo earned Fight of the Night honors after 15 minutes of action where McDonald’s impressive offense was countered by the heart and determination from Figueroa.

One sequence in the second round featured McDonald transitioning through three different submission attempts, drawing an ovation from the capacity crowd at the Key Arena and praise from press row.

McDonald is part of an emerging generation of fighters who started out training all elements of mixed martial arts.

While the pioneers of this sport and many of the current stalwarts initially began their training in a singular discipline, adding others along the way, McDonald has been working on all aspects of his game from the very beginning. Personally, I see that as a blueprint for being a complete fighter sooner than most others reach that level; you’re not playing catch-up in one or two areas.

However, what has impressed me most about McDonald to this point is how completely unfazed he seems to be by everything that is taking place around him. A talented 20-year-old who remains calm under pressure and unaffected by the bright lights and attention being directed his way is someone worth keeping an eye on in my opinion.

As he continues to develop, both physically and in terms of his skills, McDonald is only going to get better. We often talk about prospects and their ceiling, but with McDonald, I don’t know if we can really establish one just yet.

He’s a top 20 bantamweight before his 21st birthday, and if everything keeps moving forward as it has to this point, McDonald has the potential to be a superstar and a champion.

I’m setting the over/under at age 25… and taking the under.