An Interview With Cage Warriors Title Contender Rhys McKee
By Dan McConnell
From BAMMA lightweight Champion, Cage Warriors star and overcoming injury.
Rhys ‘Skeletor’ McKee is a Northern-Irish fighter out of Next Generation IMMA under the watchful eye of Rodney Moore, and former UFC lightweight contender ‘Stormin’ Norman Parke.
McKee held the BAMMA lightweight title until the promotions recent and unexpected closure. He was granted his release and snapped up by Europe’s leading MMA promotion Cage Warriors, where this gave the hot-prospect a chance at continuing his progression at 9-2-1 and opened the gate for a possible future with the UFC.
McKee is currently 2-0 in his new promotion and announced that he is moving up to welterweight to compete for the 170-pound title, and will look to make a run for the Cage Warriors gold in the future.
I have followed McKee’s career from his second last fight at BAMMA against Tim Barnett, and have watched the steady growth of a young-talent from Ballymena in Northern Ireland who is certainly proudly putting the sport on the map over here.
I have recently become friendly with McKee on a personal level due to my current work connections who sponsor the fighter, and it has given me a great insight into the mindset in and out of the cage, and the expected potential set-backs they face which we may not always hear about. I decided to catch up with the highly-talented Cage Warriors prospect.
McKee started his amateur career in 2013 fighting for Scottish Fighting Challenge, then went to Clan Wars, Akuma FC and fought for Cage Conflict Championship against now Bellator and SBG fighter Richie Smullen. I wanted to know what was it like to fight someone like that so early in your career.
“Basically, I fought on every show in the country in terms of amateur, as you said I fought on Scottish shows, shows in Belfast, in Downpatrick and then fought Richie Smullen in Chaos down in Derry.
“At the time I didn’t know much about Richie, I knew he was a really good grappler, but at the time to be honest I knew I was a higher level. I went in and submitted him quick, so I never have or did look at Richie as one of those fights ‘oh that was a great fight, great person to fight’ it was just another fight for me.
“My best memory from the amateurs is definitely winning a tournament where I had two fights on the one night, that was a special experience for sure.”
McKee went on to sign for BAMMA and held the lightweight titie in that promotion.
“Fighting for BAMMA was an incredible part of my career, I spent a few years and had my pro debut, as well as some massive fights with the organisation. I won the British lightweight title and then went on to win the world title in my time there, so BAMMA certainly has a big place in my heart.
“As for the promotion closing, I had no knowledge of this until I asked for a release, because there was no contact and I knew something strange was up which they granted my release pretty quickly. But yeah, definitely BAMMA was fantastic for UK MMA when it was in it’s prime!
BAMMA was leading the way with Cage Warriors, in producing and putting talent in the shop window as well as allowing fighters to have a steady promotion to perform their trade. The company closed its doors in 2018 after their last ever show around this time last year, June 2018.
Now with this experience behind him McKee moved onto bigger and better things with Europe’s leading MMA organisation in Cage Warriors.
“Yeah I’m part of Europe’s, in my opinion leading promotion now which is fantastic for me and my career as well as the exposure. They had a fantastic card a few weeks ago in London that I really wish I was a part of, but unfortunately due to injuries I wasn’t but I thought the card delivered for the fans more than anyone even expected.
“My favourite fight on the card definitely was the Dalby and Houston welterweight title fight and main event, but I think the best performance on the night was Jai Herbert, I thought he was amazing with that finish. But Houston v Dalby was the fight of the night for me.”
Cage Warriors 106 certainly showed why they are the leading MMA promotion in Europe with the incredible fights and drama that unfolded. Incidentally McKee is the only fighter to have beaten Jai Herbert.
Injuries have stopped the growth and progression a little for McKee in his new promotion. After his last performance the win over Perry Goodwin he decided recently to move up to 170, to make welterweight a new home.
I asked if there are any potential matchups he’d like next.
“Unfortunately, the injury has put a bit of a halt to the progress but it is something that I have really used the time to move up to 170 correctly, rather than taking a quick fight and rushing it. I have had the chance to look after areas that where maybe missing in my game, and also grow naturally into the weight class.
“As for potential matchups, I challenged the experienced Alex Lohore for a potential fight but unfortunately, he reverted to blocking me on social media. I guess he thought that was much easier than fighting me! So that’s kind of where it is at and I’ll fight whoever they send me first, but eventually I will have that gold belt wrapped around me that’s for sure.”
Ross Houston and Nicolas Dalby are expected to become the latest fighters to move to the UFC. McKee could be close to getting a title shot if and when the title becomes vacant.
“I believe with one solid win over a top contender in the welterweight division, I will then have my title shot. The reason I believe that is because I know I would have got the title shot if I was still fighting at 155 pounds at lightweight, but I moved up so we will see.
All fighters have different dreams and ambitions, does McKee see himself in the UFC, is that is dream career move.
“My dream and what I will look back on in my career is plain and simple. Whoever has the UFC belt at whatever weight division I’m competing at that moment in time is basically my dream fight and hopefully that won’t be too soon.”
All being well McKee will be back in a Cage Warriors arena before the year is out and with the brutal cut to 155 no longer an issue, expect to see a stronger and better version when he does.