For the first time in around two and a half years, Cage Warriors finally return to the Emerald Isle this Saturday night. Neptune Stadium in Cork plays host to one of the leading European promotions as they look to play their part in giving the Irish market a kick-start back into action.
After years of having a fairly stagnant MMA scene, a new generation of Irish talent appears to be ready to breakthrough and make their name on the continent. Rhys McKee is one of the names touted as being one of the next big stars from Northern Ireland and is looking to make a statement when he headlines Cage Warriors 110 against the Norwegian, Hakon Foss.
McKee (9-2-1) first found MMA when he wanted to work on his pre-season fitness before the football season started. He thought the sport would improve his conditioning and build his strength so that his performance on the pitch would reach new levels. However, after training MMA for around two months, McKee got hooked and hasn’t looked back since.
He made his professional MMA debut in September 2015 for BAMMA which was one of the leading promotions in Europe at the time. McKee quickly rose through the lightweight ranks, even defeating current Cage Warriors lightweight champion, Jai Herbet, by first round knockout. In his ninth professional fight, he stopped Tim Barnett due to strikes in order to claim the BAMMA lightweight title where his high-level striking was on display once again.
When BAMMA suddenly transformed into Bellator Europe, McKee held talks to sign with the promotion but opted to make the move to Cage Warriors instead as he believed that was his best route to the UFC. The man also known as ‘Skeletor’ was successful in his first two appearances with the company where he defeated Jefferson George and Perry Goodwin by stoppage. Many fans were calling for the 24-year-old to get a lightweight title shot but McKee knew his career needed to take a different path.
“In the lead up to my last two fights, I’ve felt my health being threatened,” explained McKee. “Also, before those bouts I wasn’t performing correctly in training as I was just fighting to make weight. I knew it was time to move up to welterweight which is going to be my new home. My body wants to grow as I am still very young and those weight cuts were squashing my athletic gain. For this camp, it’s been great just working on my skills every session and improving rather than devoting much of my time to hitting a certain point on the scales. I’m more focused on the fight now than ever before!”
Over recent years, Ireland has seen a real decline in MMA shows across the country which has stunted the growth of many upcoming fighters due to lack of opportunities to perform. Cage Warriors have been vocal letting fans in the region know that they are committed to bringing regular live shows back in order to give local talent the chance to shine. McKee is thrilled that he is headlining the first event of that comeback and sees that gesture as a sign from the promotion that they view him as a valuable commodity.
“I knew straight away that I was the man to main event the return to Ireland,” discussed McKee. “When I heard Cage Warriors were going back to the country I asked for this slot and I will deliver on the night. It is a very special feeling that the promotion have faith in me and I have used all of that energy in my preparations.”
McKee shares the main event slot in Cork alongside Hakon Foss (9-7) who will be looking to cause a huge upset and spoil the Irish crowd’s night. Foss isn’t on the best run of form as he has lost 4 of his last 5 fights although he has faced some well established names in Cage Warriors. Out of his 16 professional bouts, 13 have been stopped inside the first two rounds and Foss hasn’t been to a decision since 2015 so a finish is almost guaranteed one way or the other. Similarly, McKee has stopped his opponent in all of his victories which means that fans shouldn’t look away even for a split second during this once as the contest could be over at any time.
“I’m a natural finisher and I believe that this will show on Saturday night,” said McKee. “Foss is a kill or be killed fighter which has pros and cons. I know one thing for sure which is that I’m here to win and nothing else. My prediction is that I will knock him out at the end of the first round.”
With no clear contenders in line for a shot at the welterweight crown, a statement performance means there is a strong chance McKee would get that call to challenge for the belt in the near future. Alex Lohore and Louis Glismann are other notable names in the Cage Warriors 170lbs division but McKee hasn’t given any future opponents much thought at all currently as he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. However, he believes that if he competes to the maximum of his capabilities, he will get what he rightly deserves.
“For now, my only focus is on Hakon Foss,” stated McKee. “There are some great fighters out there at welterweight but I just think I bring something special to the division. With the correct performance, a title shot will be justified.”
Cage Warriors 110 can be viewed live on UFC Fight Pass at 4 p.m. ET.