The youngest fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship didn’t wait long to earn notoriety for his ability to win exciting fights on the biggest stage of professional mixed martial arts in the world.
He did it with his first fight.
Oakdale MMA star Michael McDonald, 20, peppered Texas native Edwin Figueroa with spectacular strikes, timely takedowns and superb submission attempts in a three-round war in the UFC’s bantamweight (135 pounds) division at UFC Fight Night 24 at the Key Arena in Seattle on Saturday.
The fight, an under card to three main card bouts featured on SPIKE, was aired live on Facebook.com on Saturday.
McDonald landed 30-27 scores (he won each round) from all three judges after repeated strikes, takedowns and submissions left him in control of the entire fight.
But it was a good fight.
Figueroa pressed the pace by throwing dozens of power punches that McDonald avoided, and slipped out of several tight submissions that seemed to spell his doom in a exciting second round.
Between the combatants’ toe-to-toe war in the first round, thrilling submission activity in the second and McDonald’s match-clinching takedowns in the third, a record crowd at the Key Arena was brought to their feet again and again for deafening cheers in clearly the most exciting match of the night.
According to mmajunkie.com, UFC officials reported that the night saw an attendance of 14,212 and live gate income of $1,182,850. Both are UFC bests in Fight Night history.
“I have never heard a crowd get that loud in my entire life,” McDonald said. “At a couple points … they just went crazy. That crowd was insane.”
And it didn’t go unnoticed.
McDonald and Figueroa both nabbed a $55,000 bonus for landing Fight Of The Night honors from the UFC. It’s a huge payday for both fighters, and some added reward for an Oakdale fighter who was already flying on high on the cusp of his first UFC victory.
“I walked out of the event center and saw my manager give me two thumbs up and say ‘it’s a go, you got Fight of The Night’,” McDonald said. “I ran and gave him a big hug and did the same to my brother and my coach.”
McDonald’s brother (fellow Oakdale MMA fighter Justin Smitely) and coach (Oakdale MMA Instructor Tom Theofanopoulos) were his corner coaches in the fight, and also appeared live during the taping during the break between the second and third rounds.
McDonald was rushed to the hospital after an injury had on-site doctors worried he had broken his hand on a first-round punch, but he was later cleared of any fractures.
Figueroa proved a game opponent by resiliently refusing to tap in the second round and firing back with an aggressive attack to pressure McDonald in the third, but couldn’t stop three late McDonald takedowns, the last leaving Figueroa on his back defending strikes as the final bell sounded.
The two shared an emotional embrace afterwards and spent time after the fight to talk and take photos.
“Edwin is an amazing guy,” McDonald said. “I can honestly say it was an honor to fight him, and winning and losing aside, God’s will was done in both of our lives in that fight.
“He’s the toughest guy I have ever fought.”