Antonio McKee and Maurice Smith, Two Great Fighters, One May Never Get His Chance and the Other Has Been Erased from UFC History, Racism?

The man on the left is Maurice Smith, the first African-American UFC champ, also the first kickboxer to win two major MMA titles. Seen here against Kevin Randleman at UFC 19. Photo by Susumu

MFC champ Antonio McKee won quickly and decisively on Friday night via TKO over Luciano Azevedo due to a cut from a nasty elbow. He then called out B.J. Penn and Sean Sherk but with an unusual caveat: "I'm waiting for the UFC to release BJ [Penn] or Sean Sherk so I can tear their ass up, too."

Why is a lightweight with a 25-3-2 record and no losses since a 2003 decision to welterweight Karo Parisyan not even hoping to get "called up" to the big leagues?

His interview with Josh Gross before the fight offers some clues:

McKee: 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.
...
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.
...
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?

Earlier in the piece he talks about fighter rights and while he explicitly says it's not about color, check out the examples that come to mind in the full entry:

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.

Note that McKee is wrong about Smith KO'ing Mark Coleman. He won via decision.

It is pretty pathetic that Maurice Smith has been erased from UFC history. I don't think racism played much of a role in that as much as Maurice's association with Frank Shamrock and later the IFL, neither of whom are dear to Zuffa's heart. 

But those fans who are ignorant as to the importance of Mo Smith in MMA history are really missing out. He was the first top-tier kickboxer to make a serious commitment to MMA. More importantly, he was the first striker to show how grapplers could be beaten. He developed a strong enough guard game to survive the top assaults of grapplers like BJJ bruiser Marcus "Conan" Silveira and wrestler Mark Coleman and then when he got back to the feet, he beat the crap out of them and took their titles.

Read about those fights in my MMA History series: Smith vs ConanSmith vs Coleman.  No less an authority than "Big" John McCarthy called Smith vs Coleman one of the three most important fights in UFC history because it showed that MMA was not simply a grappler's sport and that strikers have a path to victory.

Whatever is the cause of McKee being frozen out of major MMA promotions like the UFC, Strikeforce, DREAM, WVR's Sengoku and Bellator, it's the fans who suffer. His ground and pound approach may be dull, but when you consider the current top two UFC fighters are Frankie "Dance and Dodge" Edgar and Gray Maynard, the king of the uneventful decision, it's hard to say McKee should be kept out of the UFC.

If we truly believe MMA is a sport, it's long past time to see Antonio McKee get his chance against the top lightweights in the sport. And while it may be premature to demand McKee get an immediate title shot in any of the bigs, I'd be more than happy to see him against B.J. Penn, K.J. Noons, Kenny Florian, Clay Guida or Sean Sherk.

And as for Smith, it's shameful that not only is he not in the UFC Hall of Fame, but most of his UFC fights are not even available on DVD. This is an athlete who played an incredibly pivotal role in MMA history, both in his own career and as a coach for Frank Shamrock during the latter's incredible UFC run. 

I think that the UFC's treatment of both men has less to do with racism than with Dana White's aversion to intelligent outspoken fighters who speak up for their own interests, but the perception is there and it's something Zuffa could easily fix. It's not racism, it's political bullshit.

It's time for Antonio McKee to get his shot at the big time and it's time for Maurice Smith to be in the UFC Hall of Fame. 

MFC 26: Retribution coverage

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