Q&A with Antonio McKee (cont.)
SI.com: Clearly you're passionate about fighter rights issues. How much of that is based off your experience and how much of it is your passion for the sport in general?
McKee: I think everyone who's ever interviewed me and anyone who's ever listened, I've followed the same [ideas] in every interview: I'm concerned about the fighters. Why? Because no one else does. The promoters don't give a [expletive]. And the fans, you're only good as your last fight. I watched Rampage [Quinton Jackson] knock out Chuck Liddell and we got bottles thrown at us and we got booed. I watched Rampage lose to Forrest Griffin, who comes from The Ultimate Fighter show where there's a lot of sponsorship and marketing going on, in a decision he shouldn't have lost and should have had a rematch. But instead I watched Shogun [Mauricio Rua] kick the [expletive] out of [Lyoto] Machida, and because it wasn't a fair decision, I watched them come back and do a rematch. I watched B.J. Penn get beat by a guy [Frankie Edgar]. They didn't like that so they brought him back and he got his ass kicked again.
This is not an opinion. These are factual things I can legitimately put on the table. I just want an explanation for it. It's not about color. But we all know this is a white-based sport. I told an interviewer earlier today that it's kind of funny to me that Maurice Smith is one of the first UFC champions but has not be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. But a lot of the fighters that he fought and beat, they've been accepted into the Hall of Fame. What happened? Forget the skin color. It's what he did. His actions. He was UFC champ and held that title. He knocked out [Mark] Coleman, you remember that? Kicked him with one of the greatest knockouts. But you don't even hear Maurice Smith's name. All of a sudden, he's disappeared. It's just stuff like that I pay attention to.
I look at where I fit in the sport. People always say, "How do you want to be remembered in this sport, Antonio?" I want to be remembered as a good man. Not as the greatest fighter, because I already know in my heart I'm one of the greatest fighters. Not as a guy who went out here and talked bad about people, but a guy that stood for truth, honesty and integrity. That's what I want to be remembered by.
I grew up in the ghetto where I was getting shot, kidnapped, stabbed. Every day was strive to survive. So I come to corporate America with this mentality that I'm going to do it all right. I'm not going to sell drugs. I'm not going to rob and steal. I'm not going to work a 9-5 for anyone, so I become self-employed. I produce quite a bit of revenue on the corporate world structure, become very knowledgeable. And then I realized the power of money.
But more powerful than money is politics. I'm not trying to point fingers. I'm just saying, Listen, fighters are out here putting on a show. There are billions and billions of dollars being generated from this sport. Please, athletic commissions, stand behind the guys that are making this money. Don't sit up and allow drugs to be so heavily concentrated in mixed martial arts. There's something wrong with this picture. Steroids. Pain killers. Growth hormones. Some of these guys growth hormone levels are so damn high. But you got to have money to afford growth hormones. So if you have a guy making $180,000 a fight, he can afford growth hormones versus a guy making $18,000 to fight. You see what I'm saying? We're always going to put the best in front? Absolutely not. Brock Lesnar comes in with three fights -- he's the UFC world champion? Was this done as a publicity stunt to lure in spectators of WWE or does he truly deserve that title?
SI.com: He won those fights, didn't he?
McKee: Yeah, but he didn't put in enough work, the way I look at it. You can throw him bums if you want or get him a real fight. Or you can open up that division and find out who the contenders are, then present that challenge. To me, it makes the sport kind of tainted when you allow a guy like James Toney to come in with no MMA fights to fight a guy like Randy Couture. I couldn't go fight Floyd Mayweather. I want to go fight Floyd Mayweather because I'm the best fighter in the world. I couldn't go decide I want to play on the Lakers. Well, I watched Herschel Walker walk right into MMA and take a fight. It kind of makes the sport look fishy. This is a suspect sport to me because as far as professionals, the definition I understand, is a pro athlete, not an athlete entertaining. That's why they don't grab their crotch or all that crazy stuff they do in MMA, licking blood.
SI.com: So you're substance over style. Again, the question remains: How do you think you would fare against Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard?
McKee: You and I both know that I would kick B.J.'s ass. Why? Because Frankie Edgar is nowhere near the wrestler that I am. Gray Maynard -- do you think he'll win the title again? Edgar will have a hard time beating Maynard again. Why? Because Maynard's strength is Edgar's strength. Maynard is a lot more powerful, a lot bigger and a lot more dominant in wrestling. So do you want Gray Maynard as a champion? He's undefeated. Or do you like a guy like Edgar? You'd want Edgar because he's going to stand up and bang. But against a really good striker that understands footwork who's going to be disciplined, he'd get his ass whupped and he'd have to take that guy down.
SI.com: But the fact that he can makes him a complete mixed martial artist. That's kind of the point.
McKee: OK, but now he's boring because he can't stand up and bang with a really good striker.
SI.com: Perhaps for some people. Maynard is heavily criticized for his style, yet 10 fights into his career he's going to get a UFC title shot. Critics have said the same about you and yet you've never gotten the chance. Is that a time-and-place thing?
McKee: Well, I think I'm very boisterous, too. And I realize my career is not at the beginning. I'm a veteran. At 40 years old, I'm doing stuff 40-year-old men dream they could do. Wake up every morning and not have to shoot up pain medication or steroids. Train every day. Work with some of the greatest athletes in the world. Some of the most accomplished MMA fighters that I've worked with, they go "Wow, we didn't know you were this good. We didn't know you were this technical. McKee, you definitely got a spot in our heart."
I think over time I've won the right people over and now I've got a bigger fan base than ever before because people are starting to educate themselves in the sport. It's not just about getting in the ring and playing Sock 'Em Robot. We want to see some style. We want to see some technique. Look at the Rampage and Rashad [Evans] fight. That was the most boring fight I've ever seen, but it was the energy behind it that made it look so exciting, which was the UFC. They're very good at pushing and editing because obviously they have a lot of money to do those things. But there are a lot of other organizations out there that deserve the same opportunity.
SI.com: How do you go about resolving the issues found in MMA?
McKee: It starts with me. It starts with the fighter. It starts with a guy who's unafraid to say, I used to be a fighter, I had to walk away from it. You know why? Majority rules. Right now, majority isn't ruling. Money and politicians are ruling right now, and that's a serious problem.
I know you don't want your son out there fighting for nickels and dimes putting it all on the line getting your teeth knocked out, a porcelain jaw. You don't want that, so what do you teach? Teach him to go to school and things you're comfortable with. But he likes to fight. That's what he wants to do. So if that's the choice, wouldn't you want to make it as fair as possible, not just because he's your son but because it's better for everyone who decides they want to fight? That's where I'm at.
SI.com: You talked about retirement, but quite honestly I don't believe you. I think you want to keep fighting or you're going to keep fighting because you don't lose. But do you want to try to make that one run? Have you made a real effort of talking to UFC or another promoter where a top-ranked lightweight is a possibility to fight?
McKee: You know there's no other place to go other than the UFC. We all know that. Will I get the time? Will I get the chance? Only they know that. But what I do know is James Toney got in Dana White's face and just went about it a total different way than I am. I'm a man of integrity. I have kids and people that look up to me. I run a nonprofit program, Fight For Kids, a youth program. I can't step down from the level of integrity and respect I have for myself and my students and kids and adults have for me. I can't step down just to get my shot at UFC by calling Dana White out or threatening someone, or talking bad about somebody, personally and directly destroying their character. That would totally destroy everything I've been doing thus far.
SI.com: Maybe that's the problem. Maybe you just don't fit in the MMA business.
McKee: And that's why I say it may be time for me to go. It's not going to stop me from making money, but in the end I guarantee you people will say that guy right there is one of the best fighters in the world and he never got his shot. Because you can't take away the guys I beat. I beat Marcus Aurelio. I beat some world-class athletes. I went to a draw with Karo Parisyan and he outweighed me by 26 pounds.
I've tried to go and touch every aspect of this sport I can to deliver the honest truth. Not everyone is going to agree with me. But I tell you what, you line all the fighters up, you put them in a room, even if they don't like me they'll say we feel that way but can't say it. I talk to them all! I would like to know at the end of the day I'm not in tax trouble, that I got a little retirement money set aside. I'd like to know if I got my jaw broken, that they're going to cover the medical on my jaw, and pay me a little money when I'm out. Hell, if you tell someone you're an MMA fighter, you can't get insurance coverage.
SI.com: If you never get that shot to say, "I fought the best and I beat the best," are you going to be all right with that?
McKee: I can't ever say that I've fought the best because I believe I am the best. I've fought some of the best, but do we say they're the best just because they came from the UFC? From the guys that I've beaten that fought in the UFC, I demolished and destroyed. [McKee has a winning record against UFC veterans.] Does that not make me one of the best? Is it the organization that makes the fighter the best, or is it the fighter that makes the organization?
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