Rhys McKee: ‘Every time I win I finish and this time will be no different’

23-year-old Ballymena lightweight Rhys ‘Skeletor’ McKee is already a veteran of the domestic scene and has held the BAMMA world lightweight title. Rhys made the decision to go to Cage Warriors at the end of last year and won comfortably in his first outing against Jefferson George. With his second fight booked for 2nd March against Perry Goodwin in London only 6 weeks away, Rhys took the time to speak about the move, his next fight, philosophy, career so far and his big plans for the future.

How difficult a decision was it to sign for Cage Warriors?

Yeah, it was cool man, obviously it was a bit strange coming from one of their biggest rivals (BAMMA) but I’ve always really admired Cage Warriors, I’ve always watched Cage Warriors, I was always a big fan. It was nice to go to the other side, so to speak. The experience so far has been great.

Cage Warriors has been the proving ground for so many great British and European talents, you mentioned in an interview not so long ago that Bellator was an option but UFC is where you want to go, did that influence your decision?

Yeah, I think I’m on the correct route for the UFC, I can’t see how after 3 or 4 wins here at Cage Warriors that I won’t progress on to the UFC. I think with Bellator if I went there and done well there’s a chance I’d always be a Bellator fighter and the UFC is my goal, I’ve always said that. No disrespect to others who have made that choice but I have a different belief system and it’s all very much UFC orientated.

You made a signal of intent with your first round stoppage of Jefferson George at the landmark Cage Warriors 100 card with some really slick striking, next up you have Perry Goodwin who has striking pedigree and knockout power, how do you see this one going down?

I think this one will go very very well. Perry’s style, I believe, will mean I will be able to show my strengths. Jefferson was a bit harder to plan for, to read what he was going to do. I think I can make a strong prediction of how this one will go. Perry is good, he’s fought some good guys, has a bit of a mixed record and I think on the night I’m going to show I’m a different level. It’s my job to show that.

What is the game plan for this fight, Perry is a striker, do you think that will bode well for you?

Yeah, I’m classed as a striker and so is Perry. Obviously we can both wrestle too but I predict that I’m going to set the pace and Perry is going to start diving at my legs, but I’m well versed in every area. To be honest this is amazing, I fought on the 8th of December and I’m fighting again on the 2nd of March, so there wasn’t much time to get unfit so to speak. I didn’t really stop over Christmas I just kept ticking over. There hasn’t been a fight camp as such, I don’t really have that countdown to the fight that some people do. For me that’s a kind of resentment of the game, I embrace every week at a time.

After the disappointment of losing to Terry Brazier you mentioned about just enjoying the process, that is something you don’t often hear from fighters, especially after taking a loss, I think that’s a really great philosophy to have, was that something you came upon yourself or was it something your coach Rodney Moore instilled in you?

To be honest, in my younger career I kind of skipped by wanting to go pro. Then when I went pro I kind of realised I hadn’t really been enjoying the development process as an amateur. So with that realisation now I enjoy every session. I think looking at it in terms of 4, 5 or 6 week countdowns defeats the purpose. For me that’s not right, I’m doing this for the love of the game. If you’re looking for it to be over with then maybe you’re in the wrong game. Is that a bit long winded?

It’s like the other night, on Instagram someone asked me, what is the biggest sacrifice? For me there is no sacrifice, if I said there was a sacrifice then I would be lying. There can’t be a sacrifice because this is my whole life. The sacrifice for me would be working 9-5.

So, 2019 looks to be the launching pad for Rhys McKee into the world scene, what is the plan? A run at the Cage Warriors title?

My aim here is to get Perry away in the first round. I want the next fight to be a title fight and that’s the black and white truth. With Søren Bak going down to featherweight it looks like Jack Grant will get an interim lightweight title fight or lightweight title fight, I’m not quite sure how that will work. But my aim at the minute is to get through Perry Goodwin and if I take care of him as I should do, I think a shot at that title is next.

The fight against Brazier must have been very frustrating with him utilising his wrestling and putting you up against the cage. I had a feeling if it was a 5 round fight he might have struggled to maintain that and you could have found an opening?

You know a lot of people asked me after that fight was he too strong?  I never felt like I was out of my depth at any time, he was just first, first to everything. He was better on the night. I needed to be first and I was second every time. As far as strength, cardio, there was nothing I couldn’t handle. In my head a world title fight should be 5 rounds so maybe I’ll need to just start telling people that if there were two more rounds I would have had him!

The experience of fighting a grinder like Terry will be invaluable though when you make that leap to the big show.

Absolutely, I remember getting back to the changing rooms and the mood was very sombre, mopey. But that’s not me at all, I was like ‘Fuck it.’ I was lying in bed that night, I couldn’t sleep, I can’t sleep the night of the fight and I remember watching the sun come up around 5 .30 AM. It was cool, the sun rises the same way after a loss as it does with a win. I’m 23, I’m fighting at a high level. I’m enjoying the process; a lot of guys have the mentality ‘I must win’ but I know it’ll come. You won’t see me getting amped up, screaming at a camera. I’m here to have fun.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The last win on the journey is always the highlight for me. Obviously winning the British and world BAMMA titles was special and the win against Tim Barnett in the rematch was fantastic. It was a kind of ‘I told you so’ type of moment! But the last win for me is always the highlight. Come the 3rd of March beating Perry will be the highlight.

The first fight against Tim Barnett you didn’t look yourself at all, what happened there, was it a rough weight cut?

Rehydration was the problem there, I cut less for that fight than I do now actually but I don’t know if it was bad timing to do with the cut, I took an infection in my stomach and I couldn’t retain solids or fluid. I actually walked into that fight at 156 pounds, I weighed in at 155 pounds. Usually I step into the cage weighing between 174-175 pounds after rehydration. So that’s a 20 pound difference and it was evident on the night. If you watch that fight back you’ll see the same Rhys McKee fighting that was on the scales for the weigh in. I was able to prove myself in the rematch thankfully.

You certainly did, it was an emphatic win against a great fighter in Barnett. What was it that got you into martial arts in the first place?

So basically, it was just something to get fit for football in pre-season, I went to classes with my brother but I quickly realised it was going to be more than that. Growing up I wasn’t a fighter or confrontational in any way. I don’t really view it as a fight, it’s martial arts for me and I’m a martial artist. I got into it for fitness and fun and just caught the bug.

Guys who talk like that, who talk about the process, the drive and the cerebral elements of fighting tend to go to that higher level rather than fighting on emotion don’t they?

It helps being able to break it down and keep away from the ‘do or die’ mentality. It’s martial arts and it’s competition.

Do you have a message for Perry Goodwin?

Don’t come less than 110% ready. It’s gonna be a finish. All 8 of my wins have been by finish. Every time I win I finish and this time will be no different.

Image courtesy of James McCann - @jmccannphoto

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