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UFC 145:

Meet Michael McDonald, cage fighting phenom and carpentry whiz

McDonald and Miguel Torres meet in key bantamweight bout Saturday

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Associated Press

Referee Josh Rosenthal, left, stops Michael McDonald, top, from punching Alex Soto in the first round during a UFC 139 Mixed Martial Arts bantamweight bout in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. McDonald won by TKO in the first round.

UFC 145

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ATLANTA — When Michael McDonald received a $70,000 Knockout of the Night bonus check at UFC 139 six months ago, he immediately began to think about how he could spend it.

Buying a house was one option for the 21-year-old bantamweight. That wasn’t what he really wanted, though.

An aspiring carpenter, McDonald instead decided to buy supplies to build a wood shop behind his parents’ house in Modesto, Calif.

“With all the time I spend in training, my other time is spent in my shop just relaxing,” McDonald said. “It’s something for me to get away from the world and have fun. It’s really an escape.”

McDonald described himself as an intermediate- to advanced-level carpenter. He’s way ahead of that as a fighter.

McDonald (14-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) faces 31-year-old Miguel Torres (39-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC) on the main card of UFC 145 in a meeting between two 135-pounders ranked in the top 10. Despite Torres’ status as a former champion, sports books list the bout as nearly a pick’em fight because of how impressive McDonald has looked early in his UFC career.

“I think I’m the most experienced and the most threat to him out of everybody he’s fought,” Torres said. “And I’m not scared of him. I watched a lot of his old fights. I could see a lot of the guys he was fighting weren't sure of themselves, or they weren't sure of him. I'm not worried about who he is.”

Like many successful fighters, Torres owns and helps run his own gym. He purchased the space near his home in Hammond, Ind., when he found financial success through his fighting career.

Purchasing a gym would have been a more ordinary choice for McDonald and a distinct option a couple years ago. McDonald said MMA was the only thing he cared about when he started his professional career.

McDonald’s first loss, a second-round TKO defeat to UFC veteran Cole Escovedo in 2009 that he later avenged, changed his outlook.

“It took me to get beat up to kind of separate myself from who I am and what I do,” McDonald said. “I don’t have to do this. It doesn’t define me if I don’t want it to. First and foremost, this is something I like, and it’s my job.”

Seeking a balance for his life outside of fighting, McDonald began to re-discover carpentry. It’s something he first learned he had a passion for as a freshman in high school.

In the past two years, McDonald has tinkered with different styles and educated himself on the intricacies of woodwork. He primarily focuses on building furniture and cabinetry but would someday like to build even more things.

“Carpentry is something I’ve always loved doing,” McDonald said. “Something could happen — I could tear a retina — and I could not have a job tomorrow. I could lose a house but not that wood shop. If (fighting) doesn’t happen, teaching and that wood shop could be my income for a while.”

Of course, working with power tools comes with its own set of risks. McDonald’s father constantly worries about his son’s thumb when he’s operating a table saw.

McDonald said he took extra safety precautions to protect his hands and worried more about random dangers. For example, he was operating his table saw recently when a scrap piece of metal caught the edge of the blade.

The force flung the piece into McDonald’s belt buckle and left a gaping hole at the bottom of his T-shirt.

“Oh man,” McDonald thought at the time. “I’m glad it didn’t hit my crotch or stomach.”

That’s when McDonald usually decides to get away from the tools for the rest of the day. He can admit to flying pieces of scrap metal scaring him, but nothing does in the octagon.

Click to enlarge photo

Miguel Torres boxes during open workouts for UFC 130 Thursday, May 26, 2011. Torres will face Demetrious Johnson in a bantamweight bout on Saturday.

Torres won’t intimidate McDonald, who said he had wanted this fight for years. Even during his WEC championship reign, Torres looked beatable to McDonald.

“I think he’s good, and I think I’m better,” McDonald said. “For this fight, I haven’t watched a minute of footage because I’ve already studied him. I know that I can beat him, and that’s all I need.”

Torres wasn’t offended by the comments.

“I should be a target,” Torres said. “Coming into this sport, when you start getting a name, you start getting a target on your back. It's not disrespecting me at all. It's good that he wants to fight me. He's going to get his wish on Saturday.”

Win or lose, it will be easy to find McDonald after the fight. He spends the majority of his time in one of two places — the gym and the wood shop.

“I think I like fighting more,” McDonald said. “I could definitely just live in my car in the gym parking lot, (where) all I do is just train, eat and all that other stuff. I could definitely go on without the shop, but it’s a luxury. And it’s something I enjoy. Fighting is my primary thing. It’s No. 1 above everything else, besides my faith and my family, but carpentry is No. 2.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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