An Opportunity for Rhys McKee to Show He Belongs in the UFC

An Opportunity for Rhys McKee to Show He Belongs in the UFC

Rhys McKee is fighting against Chidi Njokuani in the UFC on 30 March 2024 in Atlantic City. This will be the second fight of his second stint in the UFC.

Having lost his previous UFC fights, this match-up is a good opportunity for ‘Skeletor’ to showcase his abilities, get a win and show that he belongs at this level.

The 28-year-old Welterweight from Ballymena hasn’t had a straightforward route to get to this point.

How Rhys McKee Got Into MMA

Rhys told the No Shame Podcast that he initially played soccer, but wasn’t very good and was usually used as a substitute.

At the age of 16, he went to Rodney Moore’s gym, Next Generation IMMA Ballymena, to give it a go. After being submitted in a competition after around 10 seconds, he was hooked. He gave up soccer and went all-in with MMA.

Turning Professional

After a respectable amateur career (5-3-0), Rhys McKee turned professional and signed with BAMMA (now defunct). He had his first pro fight just nine days after his 20th birthday.

Two-and-a-half years later, Rhys fought for the BAMMA Lightweight title on 9 March 2018. By now, he had a pro record of 6-1-1.

His opponent for the title was Tim Barnett, who was the only man to have beaten him as a professional. They previously fought just over a year earlier on 24 February 2017. McKee was ill for this fight and lost by stoppage at the end of the first round.

Rhys McKee gained revenge for his previous loss and won the BAMMA Lightweight title with a dominant performance by stopping Barnett in the first round.

Even though Rhys lost a points decision to Terry Brazier in the first defence of his title, he had made enough of an impression to progress his career to the next level.

Cage Warriors

After losing to Brazier, Rhys McKee signed for Cage Warriors. He went on to win three fights in the next 12 months, all by stoppage.

For his third of these fights, he moved up to Welterweight. By this stage, his 6’2″ frame had outgrown the Lightweight division. He has remained at Welterweight ever since.

His performances in Cage Warriors drew a lot of attention and McKee’s next move was the big one, to the UFC.


Rhys McKee signed for the UFC in 2020, but would be dealt a tough hand.

He was given six days’ notice for his first UFC fight against an up-and-coming prospect called Khamzat Chimaev. After impressing in his debut fight for the UFC on 15 July 2020, Chimaev insisted he wanted to fight again the following week.

His request was granted and Rhys McKee received the call to fight Chimaev in Abu Dhabi on 25 July 2020. McKee had no hesitation in accepting the challenge, but obviously wasn’t properly prepared for it.

Chimaev was dominant right from the start, took him down and unleashed multiple punches on the ground. The referee stopped the fight just over three minutes into the first round.

For his second UFC fight, McKee was matched with the experienced Alex Moreno. McKee performed much better in this fight, but still lost by a unanimous points decision.

Although the 24-year-old had been given two very tough fights for his start in the UFC, the promotion decided to cut him from their roster.

This was tough for Rhys to take, but the experience he gained from these two fights would prove invaluable to his development.

Return to Cage Warriors

With the aim of returning to the UFC, Rhys McKee re-signed with Cage Warriors.

After a third round stoppage victory against Aleksi Mäntykivi, he earned himself a shot at the Vacant Cage Warriors Welterweight title against Justin Burlinson on 25 June 2022.

This was a really hard fight that was voted Cage Warriors Fight of the Year for 2022. McKee suffered a bad cut above his eye from an elbow in the first round. After being given the go-ahead to continue by the cageside doctor, McKee once again showed his toughness and resilience. In a back-and-forth fight, he wore his opponent down, before securing the stoppage early in the third round.

Due to Rhys being out of action because of a shoulder injury, Cage Warriors held an Interim Welterweight title fight, which was won by Jimmy Wallhead.

On 29 April 2023, Rhys McKee fought Wallhead for the Undisputed Welterweight title at Cage Warriors 153, which was held at the 3Arena in Dublin. A dominant performance by McKee resulted in a bloodied and battered Wallhead retiring on his stool after the end of the fourth round.

Since being cut by the UFC, Rhys now had three straight wins in Cage Warriors, two of which were in title fights. He had his eyes set firmly on a return to the promised land.

In his post-fight interview with Dan Hardy, he said while pointing to his UFC slider, “this is where I want to go next, UFC baby! I have history with the UFC. I done it at short notice… but now I’m ready, I’m improved, I’m the best version of me… I had two solid wins against guys who nobody wanted to fight. UFC, let’s go!”

Second Stint at the UFC

In July 2023, it was announced that Rhys McKee had indeed re-signed for the UFC.

His return fight was on 2 September 2023 against the Swiss fighter Ange Loosa at a UFC Fight Night at the Accor Arena in Paris. McKee was determined to show how much he had developed his skill-set since his first stint.

Unfortunately, he lost a tough fight by a points decision. After taking a lot of punishment in the first two rounds, he rallied in the third and threw everything into trying to secure a finish, but it wasn’t to be. He won the third round on two of the judges’ scorecards, but it wasn’t enough.

After the fight, Loosa praised McKee’s toughness: “We knew Rhys McKee was tough, but we were ready for anything. In the second round I thought I was going to finish him, and I didn’t expect him to be as tough. So all respect to him.”

Where Is Rhys McKee Now?

Rhys currently has a professional MMA record of 13-5-1. All 13 of his wins have come by stoppage (10 by KO/TKO and 3 by submission). He has a well-rounded game, but is stronger on his feet. McKee is incredibly tough and resilient, and has a track record of featuring in exciting fights. As Dana White would say, he has the dog in him. It is no surprise that he became such a fan favourite in his time with Cage Warriors.

He is set to face Chidi Njokuani in Atlantic City on 30 March 2024 in his next UFC fight. The 35-year-old Njokuani is an experienced fighter entering his sixth UFC fight, but he has lost his last three. He also previously fought in Bellator and LFA. His professional MMA record is 22-10-0, 1 NC. Njokuani has a Muay Thai background, so like McKee, he prefers to fight on his feet.

Rhys McKee will see this as a winnable fight if he performs to the best of his ability. If his previous fights are anything to go by, a striking battle with Njokuani will most likely be very gruelling and a great fight to watch. Rhys McKee tends not to do things the easy way, but a win by whatever means would provide some much needed redemption and would set him on the way to a successful UFC career.

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