Antonio McKee has made the transition from fighter to coach, and produced some of the best young prospects today. Yet he’s still not one to mince words.
If you’re the best in the world at what you do, but you don’t have the platform to prove it, what do you do?
Such was the case for many aspiring mixed martial artists in the early years of the Zuffa-owned UFC. It was just eight short years ago that the UFC merged with the WEC, and in so doing ushered in the modern era of lighter weight fighters in MMA. Prior to the merger, if you fought at 155 lbs or below, then you’d best be competing in a handful of high level promotions that accommodated said weight classes; IFL, MFC, KOTC, and the aforementioned WEC come to mind. The UFC had lightweights, but talent was spread further out.
The man that was widely considered the best lightweight fighter in the world at that time, unquestioningly, was Antonio McKee.
Cageside Press spoke with the MMA pioneer about transitioning into a world class coach, Team Bodyshop MMA, how the UFC did him bogus, and more.
Now more than ever, former fighters are finding creative ways to stay involved with the sport of MMA. Some never stopped being involved, such as McKee, but was that his plan all along? “Oh hell no,” said McKee.
“I was thinking after fighting I was gonna be rich. But I started talking shit at a young age in the fight game, [though] I had a really impressive run.”
With a professional record of 29-6-2, that’s a little better than an impressive run. Perhaps McKee is being modest here, however, he holds no punches when speaking on the current state of MMA. “It’s [The sport of MMA] not a sport yet,” McKee said.
“[MMA] is entertainment,” he continued, adding that “on the lower levels [of competition] it’s a sport, but the upper levels, the big names, that’s entertainment.”
It makes perfect sense, then, that Bellator MMA (where Antonio’s son A.J. competes), is owned by a media and entertainment company. Despite his distaste for the upper echelon of mixed martial arts, McKee has helped mold his son into one of the best young prospects in the entire sport.
“I wanted my son to go into something else,” said McKee regarding A.J.’s career choice. “I watched him fight a couple times, and I thought, this kid is a natural. We just started adding to his arsenal and next thing you know he’s 10-0 in Bellator.”
A.J. is one of many that train day in and day out at the Bodyshop to reach their dreams of becoming a world champion. Why has Team Bodyshop so quickly become one of the prime mixed martial arts locals for up and coming fighters?
Coach Antonio McKee.
“I put on different jackets, different hats when I’m working with guys individually,” said McKee. That’s key.
“I don’t push any style on a fighter, I watch what they do. I add moves, I add stuff to what they’re doing already and that’s why they are all so different. You see some camps where guys fight just like their instructor. My guys are completely the opposite, they can wrestle their asses off but they’re knocking guys out, they’re throwing spinning back kicks. I believe this is going to be my way of getting what I deserved a long time ago”
It sounds like Coach McKee is embracing the “art” in martial arts.
What McKee is referring to is the way the UFC did him bogus back in 2011. McKee had already established himself as one of the best lightweights in the world back then, but he was forced to compete above his weight class at 170lbs if he wanted his chance to fight inside the octagon.
He would lose a close split decision to Jacob Volkmann and immediately be released from the UFC. “Over the years, I’ve always been up front,” says McKee.
“When Jens Pulver was the champion, man I’ll kick the shit out of Jens Pulver. Even Matt Hughes, I’ll out-wrestle any of those guys and beat them. But they [UFC] would never make those fights happen. I wasn’t a corporate boy, I talk s*** and I thought Dana White was a f****t straight up, a punk, a coward. Why? Because he talks all this s*** and then he walks around like he’s this f****n’ tough steroid bald head guy. He doesn’t even know. I was so close to him before the UFC ever blew up, when he was doing cardio kick boxing and snorting dope, his old weird ass.”
McKee may still hold some ill will towards White and the UFC. Still, he’s moving on to greener pastures with Team Bodyshop MMA and his talented group of up and coming fighters.
The UFC declined to comment when contacted by Cageside Press regarding McKee’s statement.