Antonio McKee is proving that it's never too late.
At 42 years old, he's preparing for the fight of his life against Japanese submission wizard Shinya Aoki at the upcoming end of the year blowout spectacular Dream 18 event in Tokyo which is being co-promoted with Glory.
The former MFC Lightweight champion and one-time UFC fighter has won three straight bouts since his release from the promotion including a unanimous decision victory over Chad Dietmeyer this past March.
Initially rumored to fight Aoki at the Dream 17 event in 2011, McKee was forced to back out with a training injury, but he's more than happy to take advantage of this opportunity at a second chance.
The smothering wrestler spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about his upcoming fight with Aoki, why he won't be submitted and what he'll do against Aoki that most fighters aren't capable of accomplishing in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This fight against Shinya Aoki has been quite a while in the making. It was originally supposed to happen in 2011 back at Dream 17 so do you feel like this is an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business?
Antonio McKee: Hey, you hit the nail right on the head. Finally finishing off some unfinished business. Nothing personal. I think it's gonna be an easy fight despite what everybody else thinks. What's gonna be tough about it? He's not a knockout specialist. He doesn't hit people to knock 'em out. He's a submission guy and I haven't been submitted in over 12 or 13 years. I've only been submitted once in my whole fight career as an amateur all the way up to being a pro. I'm not really worried about the submission. I've got a great training partner that really simulates him well, Jason Manly, who is more athletic than Aoki. This is like the Brian Cobb fight. I don't see a way around that Aoki can beat me. He can't take me down. He's not stronger than me. He's not faster than me. He's a real paced fighter. He's explosive when he attacks but if you shut down the attack, then what?
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that there's nothing personal, but I remember when you had to drop out of the original fight, citing visa issues. The Dream guys were actually talking smack about you saying you could have got the visa if you really wanted it. That didn't bother you back then?
Antonio McKee: No, because that wasn't the actual reason that I didn't take the fight. The reason I didn't take the fight was because I had knee surgery and I threw out a disk in my back. I got knee surgery on a Wednesday and that Friday I found out I was going to be fighting Aoki so I went for a run, like four miles and really ended up screwing myself up really bad. I'd never really had injuries before or had to take medication so I didn't understand them. They were foreign to me. I did some stupid stuff and it ended up costing me six months to recover from the back injury, not the knee injury but the back injury. They can say what they want but let me tell you, there's no sweeter time than right now and we've got less than 14 days and I'm gonna get me some kung pow chicken.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Aoki has looked a little bit more vulnerable than he has in the past. He fought Eddie Alvarez earlier this year and got beat up pretty bad, his corner even threw in the towel during the first round beatdown. Do you think you can replicate that success?
Antonio McKee: Well with us both being southpaw, I don't think he understands the footwork and movement. Eddie Alvarez has the right gameplan, fast feet and straight punches. It's easy to beat a guy that's just gonna stand in front of you, try to jump guard and roll all on the ground. He's just not exciting as far as being able to knock somebody out. He's technical but I put myself a whole different category. I'll have pressure on top, strength and the only thing I'm worried about is if I get tired and get lazy and he catches me in something. Even if he catches me in something, I feel powerful to just explode out of something and bang him out. Other than that, man, I don't see where this fight he's favored to win. Everyone seems to think I'll be submitted in the first round but I don't know what the hell they're watching.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you say there's no way you'd be submitted. Would you have any problems using your wrestling to take him down and beat him up like you have in most of your fights?
Antonio McKee: You know, I think that's gonna be the shocker for the American people, the shocker for the Japanese people because I'm gonna go right in, beat him up for a second on the feet to let him know I'm dominant there and then I'll take him down and ground and pound him. Then we'll get back up and he'll be clueless as to where he'll win the fight at. At that point I'll be looking for holes and gaps in his game. I've seen a lot of things he does wrong. He just doesn't have bad intentions on anything that he throws.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been in there against some good submission guys. What do you think it is about your submission defense where you think it's so good that an elite ground fighter like Aoki won't be able to catch you in anything?
Antonio McKee: I understand body positioning. I understand heavy hips. I think a lot of jiu-jitsu instructors teach jiu-jitsu but they don't teach the true key. The key is hip positioning. There's no submission without the hips being involved. I picked this up over the years to shut down the hips and I realized I can just lay on them and punch them and they can't do anything about it. It's created a boring style up until the last year and a half. I've opened up quite a bit more, but once you understand what the body does, you also know how to stop it from doing it. I innocently discovered hip positioning and control plays an important role.
If you watch Aoki's attack, his hips are always moving, always climbing forward. He's trying to create space in between him and his opponent. Guys that don't have the space will be trying to punch him, knock him out and hit him in the face. They've got it all wrong. You do that at a close distance and I've been doing that my whole fighting career. I keep that skillset with me that day and not try to open up and impress the Japanese trying to knock him out. After a bunch of lumps and bruises, he'll just want out of there. I've seen guys who brought pressure to him immediately right out of the gate and he hasn't weathered many storms. Not one. There's not one fight where somebody brought heat to him and he weathered the storm where they really knew what they were doing. Either they were young and fresh trying to get him or they caught him, he acted hurt and trapped them. He's a smart fighter and can lay traps. He's got more submission wins than I've got decision wins. (laughs)
To listen to our complete conversation with Antonio McKee, click here (interview starts at 38:00 mark).