Rivalries: Rhys McKee

Rhys McKee looks to be the rare individual who gets a second chance to make a first impression.

The 27-year-old Irishman will return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the first time since 2020 when he collides with Ange Loosa in a UFC Fight Night 226 welterweight prelim on Saturday at Accor Arena in France. McKee enters the Octagon with a five-fight winning streak in tow. He last competed on April 29, when he forced a fourth-round corner stoppage against Jim Wallhead to retain the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship welterweight crown in the CW 154 headliner.

As McKee makes final preparations ahead of his upcoming battle with Loosa at 170 pounds, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped shape his career to this point:

Jai Herbert

A still-undefeated McKee captured the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts Lonsdale lightweight championship when he punched out “The Black Country Banger” in the first round of their BAMMA 27 main event on Dec. 16, 2016 at 3Arena in Dublin. Herbert checked out 1:47 into Round 1, suffering his first defeat as a pro. McKee took some time to heat up. Herbert showed little caution in approaching the Irishman with high-velocity strikes, including a head kick and a spinning back kick to the body. McKee picked his spots, pinned his counterpart to the fence with hooks from both hands and blasted him with a straight left when he tried to exit. Herbert hit the deck, where he was met with a burst of punches before referee Leon Roberts could arrive on the scene.

Tim Barnett

McKee laid claim to the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts world lightweight title when he put away the unbeaten Englishman with punches in the first round of their BAMMA 34 co-feature on March 9, 2019 at the SSE Arena in London. Barnett—who had stopped “Skeletor” with first-round punches and knees in their first meeting a little more than a year earlier—succumbed to blows 4:30 into Round 1. McKee marched forward with leg kicks, jabs and occasional combinations, his work resulting in visible damage to his opponent’s left eye inside the first minute. He never took his foot off the accelerator, and Barnett absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment in the process. Late in the first round, McKee went to work in the clinch. He forced Barnett to the canvas under considerable duress, cut loose with a series of unanswered lefts to the head and closed the deal with a pair of knees upstairs.

Terry Brazier

“The Dominator” became a two-division British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion, as he outpointed McKee to a unanimous decision and took home the world lightweight title in the BAMMA 36 headliner on June 28, 2018 at York Hall in London. Scores were 29-27, 30-25 and 30-25—all for Brazier, who entered the cage with the company’s welterweight crown already in hand. McKee had his moments—he moved to mount twice—but too few of them to make real headway. Brazier executed multiple takedowns in all three rounds, passed from one dominant position to another, applied asphyxiating control and applied some significant ground-and-pound. His relentless put a strain on his gas tank, but he fought through fatigue across the final five minutes, stymied McKee on the mat and shut down any possibility of a late rally.

Alex Morono

Well-timed takedowns and superior output carried the Fortis MMA mainstay to a unanimous verdict over McKee as part of the UFC Fight Night 182 undercard on Nov. 14, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three members of the cageside judiciary saw it the same: 30-27 for Morono. The Houston native outstruck McKee in the first round, then executed a single takedown in the second and two more in the third. Morono countered effectively in their standup exchanges, held his own at close range and built up considerable damage to the Irishman’s face. His thoughts of a comeback still in mind, McKee conceded a takedown with roughly 90 seconds left in the match. Morono stayed busy enough to avoid a restart and eventually climbed to full mount with elbow-laced ground-and-pound, chewing the remaining time off the clock. The setback, McKee’s second straight inside the Octagon, resulted in his UFC release.

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