One of the most exciting parts of the UFC’s early explosion into the mainstream was the Killer of the Week series. MMA, of course, has an extremely short memory. I’d mention something about goldfish, but goldfish may actually be losing the attention span war.
‘Welcome to the Machida era!’ remember? It’s not so much a short attention span that contributes to it, although that’s definitely part of it, so much as it is the undying will to make things historical.
When Rory MacDonald fought Che Mills at UFC 145, it wasn’t enough for Rory to be active again as one of the sport’s top welterweights. No, his life had to be at stake. His opponent was Che Mills. And “Che Mills is literally a killer of men!”
Ok. That’s not technically what Joe Rogan said, but talking up Mills’ striking as he got ground and pounded into oblivion is par for the MMA course. By ‘Killer of the Week’, I mean just that: a fighter who has the skills to end a fight early, but probably not the skills to survive late. They’re MMA’s Bepop and Rockseady. They look intimidating enough, but no matter how hard they hit, they’re ultimately just ancillary threats. They’re MMA’s henchmen. Pluto from ‘One False Move’, they ain’t.
And that’s what brings us to Drew McFedries.
McFedries made his UFC debut against Alessio Sakara. Sakara was a ‘Killer of the Week’ in his own right. Let’s rewind. This was the age of Bonnar vs. Griffin. Mixed martial artists were still trying to figure out the whole boxing thing. So were fans.
‘Who has the best MMA boxing?’ we’d ask. Sakara was technical, and deliberate. Though not a fighter with power, the Italian striker was able to boast smooth mechanics, a quick release, and violent combinations. If you wandered the underground rabbit hole long enough, you’d find fans who thought Sakara had what it took to beat Chuck Liddell. At least until UFC 65 happened.
McFedries began as an afterthought. Literally. He was a late replacement for Wilson Gouveia. And so, despite Sakara’s smooth boxing, McFedries put him away in the first round, catching Sakara with a left, and finishing him off on the ground. And thus, the ‘Killer of the Week’ baton was passed.
Nicknamed ‘The Massacre’, because few MMA nicknames actively try to be creative, McFedries had one of the jankiest styles for a brawler you’ll ever see. I think it deserves some reflection.
From his southpaw stance, McFedries would lunge in with strikes with the physics of a middle schooler getting pantsed in gym class. He favored a lead uppercut, and wide angle hooks that looked like a pumpjack missing its counterweight. In an era of Red Rocker versus Blue Bomber, McFedries fit right in.
He would get more than he bargained for, as his win was followed up by a significant step up in competition, facing off against Martin Kampmann. He lost, and over the course of nine UFC fights, he lost some more. Only one of them went past the first round. None of them lasted more than seven minutes. McFedries left the UFC with a 4-5 record inside the Octagon.
McFedries is kind of a story onto himself. Raised by a mother in Bettendrof, Iowa who battled drug addiction, he was expelled in high school and his education story would have ended there if it weren’t for the attention he got from his gym teacher, and high school football coach. After more education, sports, and working as a bouncer, he’d be discovered by Pat Militech, and the rest, history, and all that.
McFedries was once interviewed soon after being released by the UFC. I think this quote sums up the ‘Killer of the Week.’
“I fight for the rush—it’s a jolt to the system. I fight for the fans and the roar of the crowd. I fight for what I believe in; living a decent life. I fight for the things no one can ever take from you—the things that make you eternal,” McFedries told Ed Kapp in 2011. “Stepping into the ring, I usually feel super-charged. There isn’t anything I can use to really describe it. It’s what I’ve been waiting for and that moment is priceless.”
Without delving too personally into McFedries’ psychology, or making assumptions, I do wonder about the correlation versus causation of brawlers with their own bruised history. It makes intuitive sense. When you’ve come so close to losing things outside of the cage, of course you’ll fight harder to avoid losing things inside of it. Maybe it’s what makes competition such a useful metaphor for their personal drive.
McFedries won’t ever be a critical part of MMA lore. But he’s part of a rich tradition.
The rich tradition of fighters who treat every punch like their last. The tradition of fighters who want that overhand right to be their opponent’s last supper. They’re gamblers. Getting knocked out comes with the territory. And that’s cool. Why wouldn’t it be? Real loss is not exercising your freedom, and suffering the consequences. Real loss, to paraphrase a critical figure of American lore, is becoming tired enough to give in.