It would be easy to view Urijah Faber’s fight against Michael McDonald as a classic matchup of the grizzled veteran who has seen it all trying to hold off the hard-charging, young up-and-comer hoping to follow his path.
After all, Faber has been a major player in mixed martial arts since he was a longtime champion in World Extreme Cagefighting and the face of the now-defunct organization. His star has continued to rise as one of the top bantamweights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In Sacramento, Calif., where Saturday’s fight between Faber and McDonald will be part of the UFC on Fox 9 card, Faber is among the city’s most beloved heroes.
McDonald, also an ultra-talented Northern Californian, counts among his 17 pro fights an unsuccessful challenge for the UFC interim bantamweight title and appears headed on a similar career trajectory as Faber.
Neither sees the bout as simple as two fighters on different points of the same arc, however.
Faber, 34, refuses to admit he is on the downside of his career, and McDonald surprisingly says he never looked up to Faber early in his career.
“It’s all about a mentality,” Faber said. “I’ve heard some really young guys talk like they’re old. Like 29- and 30-year-olds be like, ‘Oh, I’m feeling this and that.’ I feel young, man. I look at some of my peers in this sport and some of the guys that I looked up to and just see what they accomplished (after they were my age).
“I don’t necessarily want to be a guy that’s fighting into my 40s, but I feel so good. My skill level is definitely still getting better. I’ve been a guy who’s always really been about health and healthy living. So I feel 120 percent.
“So I can just get my man strength, getting a couple of hairs on my chest that pop up every once in a while, you know? I’m a late developer.”
McDonald came of age quickly in the sport. He turned professional at 16 and quickly rose through the ranks.
While almost every kid who dreamed of being a fighter in Northern California looked up to Faber, McDonald says he wasn’t one of them.
“I usually only look up to people who I see something in particular that I want to do,” he said. “Urijah has a very different fighting style than I do, so he wasn’t exactly someone that I watched as a kid like, ‘Oh, I want to be Urijah Faber.’ I wanted to fight different. From a young age, I kind of looked at all of the people in my division as competition. By the time the WEC was televised, I was already fighting, and I was looking at those guys in that way.”
Whatever mentality McDonald was using seemed to have worked. He quickly worked his way up the ranks before fighting Renan Barao for the interim belt shortly after his 22nd birthday in February.
Though he lost the fight, McDonald bounced back with a second-round submission of Brad Pickett in August and now finds himself potentially on the verge of another title shot with a win Saturday.
While Faber has had staying power in the sport, McDonald has reached the top levels as fast as anyone.
“Everything is kind of a blur, honestly,” he said. “Frankly, every once in a while I’ll sit back and look at where I am and what’s all happened ever since I turned pro at 16. That was over six years. I’m 22 now. Over these six years I can look back and it just seems pretty crazy that it all happened at one point in time. I’ve already fought for a UFC title.
“People live their whole life, you know, to just play for the Super Bowl. I’ve already done that, and I don’t really think about it. I’m conscious it happened, and now things are going to keep happening and it’s kind of become normal.”
Much as it has for Faber, who rarely has been more than one fight from a title shot since entering the WEC in 2006.
He’ll try to show McDonald some of what he has learned.
The fight is part of a card headlined by Faber’s teammate, Joseph Benavidez, challenging Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title. The event airs live on Fox (Cable 5) at 5 p.m.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.