Interview

“More than anything, I want to be the best me that I can be.” Michael McDonald, Gracie United/Vida Jiu Jitsu

Meet Michael McDonald

Bayou Fighting Championship 37 kicks off Saturday, May 18th, from the Ponchatoula Recreational Center, in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and one of the most experienced fighters featured on the card is Michael McDonald, fighting out of Gracie United Amite and Vida Jiu Jitsu. McDonald is 6-4 fighting as a professional, and he had an outstanding amateur mixed martial arts career. He is not only a gifted grappler (he’s a two-stripe brown belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and an instructor at Vida Jiu Jitsu), but he’s also a prolific boxer, having previously competed in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, defeating Charles Bennett. McDonald took his first amateur fight at only 17 years old, and I wanted to know what first sparked his interest in fighting.

“I got into a fight one time in 7th grade, and I’m not sure what it was about, but I really enjoyed the feeling, the rush, the crowd that surrounded around. I might not be the best role model, but that’s what got me into it. In fact, back in the day, before I could take cage fights, guys would hear about me, and I used to do a lot of the street fighting / backyard brawling that Kimbo [Slice] and them did, I just wasn’t smart enough to film mine. That’s how I made money growing up, I’d put up 50, they’d put up 50, and winner took all.”

“I used to do a lot of the street fighting / backyard brawling that Kimbo [Slice] and them did, I just wasn’t smart enough to film mine.”

An Outstanding Start

McDonald had a polished amateur mixed martial arts career, concluding with a record of 12-1. When I asked him about the highs of his career, he alluded to professional glories, but it was an amateur tournament that he recalled most fondly.

“[As for high points in my career] winning my first pro title meant a lot to me, but I did a tournament when I was an amateur for Rich Clementi. It was a 16 man lightweight tournament, with some of the best amateur lightweights in the state. It took place over a year, and the winner was going to win a brand new Yamaha motorcycle, and I won it, so that was cool!”

“I [train] with Kurt Holobaugh, and if you know him, he’s a pressure, in-your-face kind of fighter. And, training with guys like him, I think it just kind of grew on me.”

Iron Sharpens Iron

McDonald trains at Gracie United in Amite with UFC veteran Kurt Holobaugh. However, it’s McDonald’s coach at Vida Jiu Jitsu, Jeremy Umphries, that has made the biggest impact on McDonald’s fighting. Umphries is one of the most accomplished grapplers on the Gulf Coast. He’s a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and a top-level wrestler. McDonald described exactly how training with Umphries has helped him evolve:

“Ive always been a good grappler, but I really lacked in the wrestling department, and his wrestling is fantastic. He got his black belt under Fabricio Verdum, and he recently got his 3rd degree on it. What really helps, is that we are like the same size. So, I get used to working with someone who is the same size as the guys I’m fighting.”

Although McDonald feels that jiu jitsu is his biggest strength, there’s just something that he love’s about a stand up brawl. He said that it was actually training with Kurt Holobaugh that has advanced his striking style:

I’ve been at Vida for about a year, and I’ve been training all together 10 years, so the rest of the time I was training with Kurt Holobaugh, and if you know him, he’s a pressure, in-your-face kind of fighter. And, training with guys like him, I think it just kind of grew on me, that style.”

“More than anything, I want to be the best me that I can be.”

A Tough Loss

McDonald takes on Roy Sarabia this Saturday at BFC 37, and he’s 2-1 in his last 3 fights. However, four fights ago, in his last match with the Bayou Fighting Championship in the summer of 2016, McDonald faced Brant Moore in what he said was his toughest opponent in the cage.

“I had a a lot of success in the last round, and thought I was close to a finish. But in the first 2 rounds, he was able to take me down and control me, he was strong. That was the first fight that I lost, and I knew I lost. Going to the score card, I knew I lost. Every other loss was a split decision that I thought that I won, until my very last one. Before I went to Maryland to fight Pete, I was 6-3, and 2 of those losses were splits that I thought I won, and most people thought I won. [But] losing to Brant Moore, going to the judges, it was the first time I knew that I was really out-skilled in that fight.”

” As long as I’m doing what I’m doing now, which is making a living doing something that I did for free for a long time, for me, that’s a win.”

A Wise Warrior

McDonald looks to continue building momentum this weekend with a win over Sarabia. Although his long-term goals are to fight with the UFC or other larger organizations, I wanted to know what McDonald looked forward to in the short-term. He said that he wanted to keep improving, and improve his out-of-camp conditioning. He also had this to say:

“More than anything, I want to be the best me that I can be. That’s why I train. When I first started, the goal was to be the baddest motherfucker that I could be. But, as you get older or wiser, you learn. I’m a lightweight/featherweight, and I can’t compete with guys like Jon Jones or Brock Lesnar, so now it’s all about being the best me, and seeing how far I can take it.”

It seems that some people are never at ease with where they are. Some people get to the top and don’t know how to handle the success. Not Michael McDonald. McDonald is content with his career and what he’s already accomplished as a mixed martial artist. When thinking about how he’ll reflect back on his career someday, McDonald stated:

“I don’t need to accomplish anything [else] to be happy with my career. I’d like to get to the UFC, I’d like to win a word title, but as long as I’m doing what I’m doing now, which is making a living doing something that I did for free for a long time, for me, that’s a win.”

Shout-outs

As our interview concluded, McDonald made sure to ask me to thank his coaches and his team for all of their support.

“I want to shout-out everyone at Vida Jiu Jitsu, Greg Lapin (the owner of Vida), Jeremy Umphries, all my teammates, too many to name, but they know who they are, and all the guys I train with out in Amite, Kurt Holobaugh and those guys, and they know who they are, [too].”

Michael McDonald fights Roy Sarabia this Saturday, May 18th, at Bayou Fighting Championship 37 in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. You can purchase tickets for the event by clicking here, or visit BayouFC.com for more information!

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