It was no great shock when Rhys McKee called for his upcoming bout with Tim Barnett to be contested for the BAMMA world title.
BAMMA straps have proved to be calling cards to the big leagues for the likes of Mark Godbeer, Paul Craig, Tom Watson, Scott Askham, Ryan Scope, Tom Duquesnoy and Daniel Crawford over the recent years.
Barnett won the RDX belt — a secondary BAMMA title reserved for top prospects — when he handed McKee his sole professional defeat in Feb. 2017.
Originally the rematch at BAMMA 34 was to be contested for the RDX belt, but when world champion Scope vacated his title to sign with Bellator, 22-year-old McKee petitioned for the upgrade in title stakes. BAMMA obliged by declaring that the lightweight contest would be title unification bout.
“There’s a bigger title on the line so there will be more eyes on the fight,” McKee told MMA Fighting.
“As soon as the title was vacated, I was calling for it. It’s like when I fought Jai Herbert, I was calling for the (RDX) belt to be put on the line that night. I got the title from that fight and I see this going the same way.
“I want it more. Nobody heard Tim asking for this to be for a world title and that’s what I think it boils down to — I just want it more.”
Ahead of their first meeting, McKee fell ill and barely managed to put a pound back on after registering his weight at 154.6 lbs. A depleted version of the Northern Irish prospect withered in the clinch where Barnett blasted him with knees and elbows before the referee waved off the action with two seconds to go in the opening round.
McKee has since bounced back with a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender when he fought SBG Ireland’s Richie Smullen to a draw, followed by his triangle finish of Kams Ekpo in his last outing.
For the most part, it’s accepted across the board that McKee shouldn’t have fought on the night of BAMMA 28, his first meeting with Barnett. But does Barnett believe the story or does he see it as an excuse?
“I know what he wants to believe. He wants to believe that I was 100 percent that night, but it’s going to be like chalk and cheese,” said McKee.
“You look at any fight I’ve had before I fought Tim, and then look at my two fights since I fought Tim, I never fight the way I did that night. I never look the way I did that night.
“I hope he comes in thinking that I’m going to be exactly the way I was in the first fight. Honestly, I’d be happy with that. I know I’m going to be completely different.”
Barnett has gone quietly about his business but the skillset that has helped him to a 5-0 record speaks volumes about his potential.
It was unknown whether the Liverpudlian would compete under the BAMMA banner again when reports circulated that he had tried out for the latest season of TUF. The MMA Academy fighter was not revealed as a cast member for the season, and McKee thinks he’ll see that as a “setback” ahead of the rematch.
“TUF is an elite competition, of course, but at the end of the day he didn’t make the cut,” stated McKee, bluntly. “At the end of the day, it’s a setback and it’s a setback that he didn’t want. I don’t know how badly it’s affecting him or anything like that, but I guess he can only see that as one step back if those were his plans.”
With the UFC planning a return to Dublin in late May, the rumor mill inevitably starts to turn with regard to what Irish prospect could be whipped up by the promotion. Former UFC fighter Paul Redmond and Cage Warriors champion Karl Moore seem to be the odds-on favorites to get a golden ticket, but there are many who think the BAMMA title could secure McKee an Octagon debut.
“Skeletor”, however, is in no rush.
“I’d be happy to get on any UFC card, I wouldn’t think twice about it,” the Next Generation Northern Ireland fighter began. “There is a chance that the UFC might still see me as a bit too young, or maybe they’ll want to see more of me before they make that decision, but who knows?
“At the moment, I can’t look passed Friday night. Everything will reveal itself after I get in there with Tim. I’ve got to take care my side of the bargain first and if UFC want to come calling after that, so be it. If an offer doesn’t come now I really think it will come after I defend this title for the first time.”