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ANALYSIS:

Faber vs. McDonald a can’t-miss attraction at UFC on Fox 9

Run of great fights could continue with battle-tested bantamweights

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Michael McDonald celebrates a win against Brad Pickett after their UFC on Fox Sports 1 mixed martial arts bout in Boston, Saturday, August 17,2013. McDonald won via second round submission.

Here’s to hoping Michael McDonald found a productive use of time at the UFC on Fox 9 press conference earlier this week.

He could have responded to emails on his phone or trained for the Ultimate Thumb War Championships behind the nameplate stationed in front of him at the aptly titled Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. The 22-year-old bantamweight needed to occupy himself somehow, what without the necessity of answering any questions at the press event for the eight fighters on tomorrow night’s network-televised main card.

Well, McDonald spoke for about 20 seconds during the 35-minute outing. His only acknowledgement came from a reporter asking him to “talk about” his matchup with Urijah Faber.

“I go from not talking at all to a very vague question,” McDonald said.

Leading up to the penultimate fight card of the year, the focus seems squarely on two things — the bickering between featherweights Chad Mendes and Nik Lentz and the rematch intricacies of the flyweight championship main event.

Turn on the lights and get the wheels going for the co-main event, too. Don’t sleep on Faber vs. McDonald. It should be a doozy.

The UFC is in the middle of a spectacular run, the promotion’s best in years. The past three months have included no less than three fights that deserve their place among the greatest ever.

It started with Jon Jones narrowly defending his belt in a split decision over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165, a meeting destined to win Fight of the Year because of the stakes. Then at UFC 166, Gilbert Melendez beat Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision in a “war” UFC President Dana White recently labeled his favorite fight.

And just last weekend, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Mark Hunt ended a 25-minute Brisbane brawl with a majority decision that’s still captivating the fight community.

If any bout this weekend has a chance to join that pantheon, it’s the one getting relatively ignored.

“The guy is a force to be reckoned with,” Faber said of McDonald. “It is a more dangerous fight. It’s one thing to go in there and try to win. It’s another thing to know we’re fighting and this is a simulated death match.”

Faber comes off as overdramatic, but the point the 32-year-old veteran is trying to make is worthy. No one is safe from grievous injury when entering the cage across from McDonald or Faber.

The two have combined for six finishes in 10 UFC victories, an absurd percentage considering the level of competition they’ve faced as two of the world’s elite 135-pound combatants.

Their only octagon losses are to champion Dominick Cruz and interim champion Renan Barao — the latter beat both of them while the former avenged a previous loss to Faber — as they’ve basically obliterated everyone else.

The gap between the fourth- and fifth-best bantamweights might be as wide as the fifth and 15th. The winner of Faber vs. McDonald claims a strong No. 3 ranking and should be in position to challenge the winner of a UFC 169 title unification bout between Cruz and Barao.

“Right now, it’s a no-brainer,” Faber said when asked if the UFC on Fox 9 co-main event should be considered a title eliminator.

Some complain Faber is given too many title shots, but a win over McDonald would be his fourth straight since dropping all but one round to Barao at UFC 149 last year. McDonald got Barao right after Faber. He found more success early but was ultimately submitted in the fourth round.

Barao is the only common UFC opponent for Faber and McDonald, making it tough to glean much information from their performances.

“Honestly, I think the person who can just push through and endure is going to be the one who comes out on top. It’s going to be a match on our attacks and defense on those strategies.” McDonald said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Those make for the best types of fights.

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

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