Antonio McKee (top) | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Prior to his fight with Azevedo at MFC 26, McKee made a bold proclamation: he vowed to retire if the match went to a decision. With Mezger providing commentary at ringside, McKee opened up Azevedo with a vicious elbow and scored a first-round technical knockout via doctor stoppage.
“Guy Mezger brought that out of me … Azevedo running his mouth saying I’m old and senile,” McKee says, bristling. “I’m the wrong guy to say that to. I came from that. You run your mouth, I’ll test you. They brought the n---a out of me. And look what happened. That was some n---a stuff: splitting a guy’s head open for money and [defaming] his character on national TV.
“After that fight, I got back to California on Saturday. On Sunday, I was in church on my hands and knees, praying and crying,” McKee adds. “My daughter asked, ‘Dad, why are you crying?’ I told her I was asking God to help me because that was the guy I knew back in the streets. I don’t want to be that guy. I asked God to deliver me because I don’t want to be that character.”
Following that appearance, McKee finally reached an agreement to fight for the world’s premier MMA organization. Set to make his UFC debut against Volkmann at UFC 125 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the question now becomes, what type of performance will McKee show UFC fans?
An Answer Approaches
Because it took place outside of the UFC’s star-making lights, McKee’s long winning streak has gone unnoticed by most fans. However, those same fans don’t know about the blogs and forums. They don’t know about “MMA’s most boring fighter.” As such, McKee has the opportunity to entirely reshape his image.
If McKee dominates and finishes his UFC opponents in impressive fashion, his reputation for dull fights will quickly vanish. His successful 11-year career, for better or worse, will be defined by his next few bouts. For years, McKee claimed the money was not worthwhile to fight with a risky, crowd-pleasing style. Now, with five-figure bonuses available, the incentive is there to indulge in what McKee has termed “the monkey show.”
“I knew what the UFC was looking for previously, and I wasn’t, at the time, willing to put that out there for the amount of money being paid,” McKee says. “It wasn’t worth it to me, as a young man, to go out and put on a monkey show for two or three thousand dollars. I would rather win a decision and walk away with not a scratch on me. But with these incentives, absolutely, it changes things. I’m going to try to knock Volkmann’s head off his shoulders.”
Since the advent of the UFC’s discretionary bonus system to encourage exciting fights, many fighters have altered their styles in the name of earning more money and entertaining fans. But the success of those gambles has been dictated by the natural abilities of the men in question.
Chris Lytle comes out to have exciting brawls, but he has all the tools to do well in them.
His boxing background and chin allow him to square off and trade. His experience and savvy afford him opportunities to get out of danger when he takes risks. However, for every Lytle, there are just as many, if not more, Jorge Gurgels.
Beyond the pragmatic consideration of winning and losing, there remains the question of whether a fighter has the psychological makeup for self-destructive behavior. It is a natural human instinct to not want to get hit. Some fighters -- your Forrest Griffins and Stephan Bonnars, for example -- clearly relish the opportunity to engage in give-and-take brutality. McKee has spent much of his life trying to distance himself from the violence that marked his youth. Reconciling his distaste for violent spectacle with his vow to engage in it for large sums of money is difficult.
“Some fighters I feel sorry for, but I take my hat off to them. At 50, 60 years old, I still want to be a dad and play basketball. I don’t want to be walking around here, shaking my head, not knowing who I am and my memory’s shot,” McKee says, clearly imagining that hypothetical future as he speaks. “The moment I get a good ass whipping, I’m done. I just want to know if I’m the best fighter in the world or if I’m a bunch of hot air.”
Eleven years in the making, the answer approaches quickly.