Michael McDonald had no history of drug or alcohol addiction.
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The 22-year-old who fights interim bantamweight titleholder Renan Barao at UFC on Fuel TV 7 in London on Saturday was simply lost when he turned to his central California church’s sober recovery program.
"The main reason was that I just wasn’t happy," McDonald told FOXSports.com. "I had all these things going on outside that should have made me happy. I had a good job. I made good money. But I was miserable. I was in my own little world, living my life and doing these good things, but I didn’t have a reason."
Some of McDonald’s earliest memories as a child were going to church, so it wasn’t a tough choice when he decided where to turn.
"I am a broken man, like everybody else in the world," McDonald said. "I just didn’t know at that point how broken I was. All the things around me that should have made me happy weren’t. I headed into the program and it gave me the tools I needed."
A pro since 16, McDonald already had skills that made him a force in the bantamweight division. He relies on his striking power, utilized through a counterpunching attack and as a result, finds himself with a pro record of 15-1.
Beyond church and training, McDonald is often honing his skills at his parents’ house in Modesto, Calif. But, he’s not practicing Brazlian Jiu Jitsu. He’s not working on his kicks. He’s not even working on his cardio.
McDonald is working atop his new miter stand, his favorite addition to the woodworking shop he’s put together there.
"Both fighting and woodworking require a lot of concentration," McDonald said. "You have to find a system that works and stick with it. You have to invest a lot of time. You have to love the process and not just the results."
The results of his craftsmanship, both in and out of the cage, haven’t been too bad of late. McDonald is on an eight-fight winning streak — the last four in the UFC.
Barao is on an even more impressive run though, at least in terms of quantity. He hasn’t lost in 30 fights — which includes one no-contest – after his initial loss as a pro in 2005.
"You shouldn’t just look at the streak, but the quality of the fighters," Barao told FOXSports.com through an interpreter.
While some may quibble with his early fights in his native Brazil, Barao has won his four UFC bouts. The most recent was against Urijah Faber, who he defeated via a unanimous decision at UFC 149 in July. The five-round win earned Barao the interim belt, one that went on the line after champ Dominick Cruz was injured.
McDonald said he hasn’t put any more emphasis on this fight than any of his previous bouts, even if this is for a title.
"I don’t think about that," McDonald said of winning a belt. "When it happens, that’ll be cool. It’s not something I use as motivation. It’s not even on my list of personal goals."
McDonald said his goals in life are more "vague."
"When it comes to this sport, I have small goals," he said. "Like, ‘I think I can beat that guy. Let’s go do that.’ It’s nothing about wanting to be the best or creating some kind of legacy."
Legacy or not, with the chance to be the youngest UFC champ on the line, a victory on Saturday would make history.