It turns out that even for an 11-year MMA veteran like Antonio McKee
, Octagon jitters are very real. If that surprises you to learn, just imagine how he feels.
It's one thing for a young fighter with only a couple years as a pro to struggle with nerves in his UFC debut. That's to be expected. But for the 40-year-old McKee, who has fought in various MMA organizations all over North America in the past decade, it was a bit of a shock.
"It was funny because I've never really been nervous for my other fights," McKee told MMA Fighting. "I was really nervous, not about my opponent, but just the crowd, the people. I didn't want people to be disappointed in my performance. I was surprised that I got that nervous, but the UFC is intimidating. I didn't realize it was that intimidating actually being in there."
McKee (25-4-2) lost a split decision to Jacob Volkmann
in his Octagon debut at UFC 125
this past Saturday night. Theirs was the first bout of the night, and though the arena was still just beginning to fill up, the sudden rush of adrenaline that came with being on the sport's biggest stage wore McKee down in the opening round, he admitted.
"I wasn't tired, I was just excited," McKee said. "Maybe I was a little too excited. I've got to mellow out a little bit."Trust me, as soon as I make those adjustments I'll be right back talking smack.
-- Antonio McKee
But just because he can admit to making some mistakes, that doesn't mean McKee agrees with the decision. While two of the three judges gave rounds one and two to Volkmann, thus awarding him the victory, the outspoken McKee still insists the decision should have gone his way, even if he deviated from his strengths in an effort to get it.
"I didn't think it was the right decision. But you know what, man? I got too excited because I was winning on the feet for the first time in my life (laughs). I was like, I'm going to try and knock this dude out. He stayed outside and I tried to make him fight in the middle of the ring. He did a good job running and they called it a split decision, which I didn't think was right. I thought I won the first round. I definitely gave him the second round, and the third round I won. I was the one trying to fight. I wasn't running; I was trying to get it on right there in the middle of the ring."
For McKee, the bout with Volkmann was something of a role reversal. Normally it's McKee trying to outwrestle opponents en route to a decision. This time Volkmann controlled most of the action on the mat -- even taking McKee's back for most of round two -- and it was McKee who seemed to be winning the striking exchanges.
Even though he lost his debut fight, McKee said, and even though it wasn't the most exciting performance from either man, he believes that his efforts on the feet made an impression on the powers that be within the UFC.
"I think the UFC saw that I was trying to bang. I was trying to get it on, stand in the middle of the ring. I'd walk back to the center of the ring and stand there and wait for him. You know, let's get it on. Let's do this. And he chose to run around in circles. If I would have been over-aggressive he would have taken me down easier. But at the end of the day, the judges have the cards in their hands and they make the decision, and I left it up to them to make that decision."
But just because he posted a loss on his record for the first time since 2003, don't think it will have an effect on McKee's pre-fight trash-talking. It may be a little tougher now for him to get the UFC lightweight title by the end of 2011, as he vowed to do before the Volkmann fight
, but it doesn't mean McKee is going to be silenced by the sting of defeat.
"This is just a setback, a bit of a humbling experience for me, and a reminder to go in there and not leave it in the judges' hands," said McKee. "By no means am I going to change as a person. I'm still going to up the ante. When I get my next opponent I'm going to let everybody know what I'm going to do again, only this time I'm going to impose my will. ...Trust me, as soon as I make those adjustments I'll be right back talking smack."