It's fitting that we've spent so much time discussing wrestlers and wrestling on MMA Fighting this week, since tonight marks the return of Antonio McKee
in a fight that he claims could be his last.
According to McKee, who has unapologetically bored MMA fans from Tokyo to New Jersey throughout his 11-year career, if his fight with Luciano Azevedo
at MFC 26 goes the same way almost all of his other fights have gone (i.e. resulting in a decision victory and an anaesthetized crowd) he'll retire.
As he told me back in July
: "I said, if this fight goes to a decision and it's a boring decision, I retire. If this fight is not the fight of the night, I retire. Basically, if I don't go out there and put on a show, just destroy and annihilate this guy, then I'm done."
Why? Not because he doesn't think he can compete anymore. He's pretty sure he can not only compete, but more or less dominate any other lightweight on the planet, even at 40 years old.
No, he says he'll quit because he's been waiting for the sport to evolve, and, at least as far as he's concerned, it hasn't.
By evolve, I think he means he's been waiting for fans to all collectively wake up one morning and discover that they love to see takedowns and ground control. Bafflingly, this has yet to happen.
Whether he knew it or not, McKee is exactly the type of fighter Dan Hardy
was talking about when he implied that some wrestlers are in violation of the MMA rule against "timidity."
McKee takes people down, works a little ground-and-pound, makes very little apparent effort to finish (he's admitted as much in the past), and relies on the judges to give him the victory.
It's not exciting, but it is effective. You can tell that much by looking at McKee's record. He hasn't lost a fight since 2003 (to Karo Parisyan
via...wait for it...decision), though he hasn't exactly been fighting the cream of the crop, either.
But for those of us who have defended the wrestler's right to ply his trade in MMA, McKee presents a philosophical problem. His commitment to winning fights without ever putting himself at risk or concerning himself with entertaining the fans is so complete that it almost borders on an abuse of the scoring system. His salary is paid by fans who want to be entertained, and yet he has never (until now, anyway) expressed any desire to give them a show.
Doesn't that seem somehow, I don't know, wrong?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: maybe, but the only thing worse than watching an Antonio McKee fight would be manipulating the rules so as to render that type of fight an impossibility.
I feel about McKee's style and his defense of it the same way I feel about the people who say idiotic things and then claim First Amendment protection. That is to say, I don't personally enjoy it, but I respect their right to do it. The damage we would do by trying to stop it would far outweigh the damage that is done to our delicate sensibilities by sitting through it. What he's doing is legal. It's fair. It's just not much fun.
The truth is, McKee has paid a price for his fighting style. He's 24-3-2, he's got a ten-fight win streak going, and still it takes some outrageous talk and a retirement threat for him to get the MMA world's attention. He may very well be the greatest fighter who nobody wants to watch, and he has only himself to blame.
McKee, not surprisingly, seems a little bitter about that. He'll tell you that fans just want blood, and then in the next sentence say it's not the fans he's mad at but the other fighters who are jealous of him. He'll tell you it's the result of racism, then say it's not about race, at least in his case. In this way, his interviews are often more entertaining than his fights, if only because they're so confusing.
But McKee's career purgatory is due largely to an unofficial fan referendum on his style. His wrestling-centric tactics got their chance in the marketplace of ideas, and consumers decided they liked it about as much as Crystal Pepsi. McKee would rather tell fans what he thinks they should like than try to become what he already knows they like.
That's fine. It's his prerogative. But it doesn't mean anyone should feel sorry for him as he complains about being overlooked.
And if that career ends – at least theoretically – with another boring performance in Canada tonight, well, that would almost be a fitting way for him to go out: lying on top of an opponent while the crowd hits the concessions stands.