The Severe Spotlight: Rhys McKee

Irish MMA fans do not crave the grace of a promotion bringing an event to their shores. There are bountiful Irish based promotions that can scratch that itch. The deep-rooted need, that Irish MMA fans desire is an outlet of celebration. Celebration for the entire country to engage in, that displays the effort, the passion and the love for not only being Irish but also the growth of Irish MMA.

As Rhys McKee made his slow approach to the centre of the 3Arena on Saturday night, a chorus of Zombie sung between himself and the crowd, the jubilation of that celebration rung through the vibrations of every word. Ahead of him, a fight against a European MMA pioneer in “Judo” Jimmy Wallhead.

The story of the fight was the McKee jab. In the post-fight interview, McKee spoke of the fear he had around fighting Wallhead – that he knew the first round had to be a tentative affair given the danger posed by Wallhead in those opening five minutes. Smartly, McKee set out his stall with the jab, whether it landed or not, whether going backwards or going forwards, the jab was pushed out to keep his opponent at the end of it, forcing Wallhead to make decisions and adjustments to get around it.

When fighting an opponent that poses significantly more danger in the first round than later in the fight, a secondary smart tactic is to attack the legs. Power generation begins at the legs, and should they be compromised, that power generation will began to wane. Attack the legs McKee did. A lovely rotation between outside low achilles tendon, outside thigh, and stomp kicks to the upper knee consistently off balanced and pushed back Wallhead.

Given the moniker, grappling is a strong suit for Jimmy Wallhead. Moving between landing shots on the feet and threatening a takedown was going to be at the core of his gameplan coming into the fight. The first level change occurs just after the two-minute mark in the first as he picks up a single – McKee reacts perfectly. He hops back to the fence, creates distance between his hips and Wallhead’s upper body and lands a triptych of uppercuts. Forcing the disengage he circles off back to the centre of the cage and immediately goes back to the jab.

Another two and a half minutes of crisp, fundamental work from McKee sees him through the first.

In the second Wallhead adjusted. As McKee worked for his second shot, Wallhead would close the distance and throw his hooks. McKee would have committed to the shot, and so with a slight duck or sidestep, Wallhead was able to come inside and find some room for his own shots. McKee smartly adjusted in his own game, throwing fewer right hands and doubling up on the jabs, going to the legs with the ends of his combinations instead.

The third round saw both men hurt. McKee sent Wallhead’s mouthpiece flying into the camera with a well times right uppercut forcing the Hardy Wallhead owner to drive right into a takedown. McKee’s situational awareness here was impressive. Wallhead began the sequence by completing a trademark double leg, landing immediately into side control. McKee found his inside frame and began to build up to his elbow, building a bade underneath him. Wallhead doing the correct counter and closing the distance, stripping the grip forced McKee to take an overback grip to get up. The downside of this get-up is back exposure. McKee relinquishes the whizzer he used to get up, knowing that the imminent danger is the top hook of Wallhead, and begins to apply resources to that micro-battle. For a moment Wallhead gains the inside position. However, McKee does an excellent job of using that commitance of weight from Wallhead to accumulate rising to both feet and using his forearm as a frame against the inside knee of Wallhead, allowing him to step his right leg free of the hook. Tactically aware also was McKee to keep his left hand grounded, making any knees to the head from Wallhead illegal.

The next micro-battle was the inside position of McKee’s elbow. Wallhead utilising a bodylock grip, bearing weight onto McKee attempting to keep his weight in his hands. McKee the opposite, attempting to win the inside elbow position and escape his hips out of the back door. Momentarily Wallhead grounds McKee with a sumptuous strip of his base via a kick to the right achilles; however McKee uses this transition to get up with a better angle, his elbow and forearm now flush to the stomach of Wallhead, and his left hand providing a clean post on the mat.

Wallhead attempts to keep the position by cutting the angle, but McKee takes a final two-on-one grip of the near hand of Wallhead and circles out of the back door. Fantastic work from McKee to navigate a position of that danger, against a grappler of that calibre.

With the pressure of the tide beginning to wear on the face of Wallhead, McKee steps into range landing a jab. Wallhead raises the guard to block the right hand but isn’t able to keep away the shovel uppercut that breaks the guard and snaps the head back cleanly. A shake-out of the arms from Wallhead allows McKee to swipe the leg, creating a vivid off balance. Graciously McKee rights his man with a stiff right hook.

In true Wallhead style, he keeps coming.

Round four is the final display of the heart, the grit and the toughness of Jimmy Wallhead. Three attempts to initiate the grappling fail, the shots from McKee are coming, and they are landing. Yet, the overhand rights, the outside slips, the ducking shots, and the effort of Wallhead. The unrelenting will to continue burns brightly.

As the sands of the fourth began to wane, McKee is still pouring on the damage. The fourth is largely one-way traffic. Wallhead’s face as crimson as his London Shootfighters tattoo, etched proudly on the right-hand side of his body.

Beaten, bloody and bruised Wallhead trudges back to his corner. Said corner a beautiful showing of the era’s of Wallheads career. Head coach Paul Ivens of London Shootfighters, Riley Daniels a young amateur fighter from Hardy Wallhead and the grappling coach of Hardy Wallhead Joe Taylor. Together they decided not to send Wallhead out for the fifth – a decision that should be celebrated. Celebrated as richly as the stampede of fans mobbing Rhys McKee as he realises the fight is over and vaults himself into the crowd.

McKee marches on to potentially another UFC opportunity, but lest we forget that this fight is nothing without “Judo” Jimmy Wallhead.

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