Terrance “T-Wrecks” McKinney may be a relatively new UFC prospect, but he’s already made a name for himself with a consecutive series of brutal first-round finishes in professional MMA. His rear naked choke submission of Fares Ziam at UFC Vegas 49 this past Saturday marks his fifth first-round victory in a row, and his eleventh first-round victory overall.
It’s an impressive resume, but “T-Wrecks” shrugs it off. “That’s just how I fight,” he tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times, all smiles and understated confidence. “I don’t get paid by the round, so my job is to finish [the fight] as quick as possible, and take the least damage possible, so I can get right back to fighting – and getting the money to take care of my family.”
“I felt great going in,” McKinney says of the fight itself. “The weight cut was easy. I did want the knockout,” he admits, “but Fares timed the inside leg kick right, and it ended up in a grappling exchange after that. I felt like there was a big gap in it, so I was just going to keep grappling for the rest of the round, and look for the submission – and sure enough, that brought me the victory.”
McKinney’s perfectly-timed rear naked choke ended what was merely his second fight in the UFC, but he’s not fazed by the promotion’s grandeur. The octagon is where he’s comfortable. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” he says of his transition from LFA to the UFC. “It just all sank in, and I was like, ‘This is where I belong.’ I just kept telling myself, ‘This is where you belong, man; this is what you’ve been dreaming about.’”
And what did you do today? Congratulations @twrecks155.— Asra Q. Nomani 🐻 (@AsraNomani) February 27, 2022
“UFC commentators Michael Bisping and Paul Felder said Fares Ziam wasn’t in any danger as Terrance McKinney cranked on his neck. Seconds later, Ziam was tapping out in the UFC Vegas 49 prelim.”pic.twitter.com/BVtFC4rXCT
With that growing collection of first-round finishes under his belt, has McKinney experienced any real differences when facing each opponent? “It doesn’t really matter to me at the end of the day,” he says. “My job is to put on a show, and get out there and get the win.”
For McKinney, it’s all about having the right mindset: “It’s a fight. I don’t even sweat it. You’ve got to think you’re gonna win. If you don’t, you’re already defeated right there; you’re gonna get your a** whooped.”
According to McKinney, much of his success stems from a strong rapport with his coaching team at Warrior Camp MMA, particularly his main coach, Pablo Alfonso. “We’re like Batman and Robin,” says McKinney. “Whatever he tells me to do, we’re getting the job done.”
“A lot of these coaches, I thank them all, because every part of my life, they’re there right when I need them,” adds McKinney.
McKinney also credits his high school wrestling experience with his sense of grace under pressure: “I wrestled in high school – I wrestled like a thousand people. God prepared me for every moment, and that’s why I’m so composed.” Like many other wrestlers-turned-fighters, McKinney strongly believes that of the major MMA sub-disciplines, wrestling provides the best overall foundation for a fighter. “I one hundred percent agree with that,” he says. “That’s why most champions in the UFC were wrestlers. With all that kind of grind, we know what it takes to be the best. Like, man, every wrestler’s had a practice where they’ve cried. We’ve been through those hard times, and we know how to push through that.”
Does McKinney remember the first time he cried in wrestling practice? He smiles a little sheepishly. “Yeah, it was my freshman year. I was getting my a** kicked, and I was the runt in the group, so I had to get tough.”
His teammates were supportive: “We all pushed each other to be the best version of ourselves.” They ribbed him a little, of course – “What high schoolers wouldn’t? It’s just part of growing up,” McKinney points out – but as fellow wrestlers, his teammates also understood the emotions of the moment. To this day, they still keep up with McKinney and his fight career. “They’re my brothers. Once we’ve wrestled together, we’re locked in for life.”
High school wrestling is also where McKinney first earned the nickname “T-Wrecks.” He chuckles as he recounts the tale: “I got the name T-Wrecks when I was in high school because I had this ugly wrestling stance!” He mimics the stance, splaying his hands like the dinosaur he was named for. “I asked my friend, ‘Why do they keep taking me down so easily? They keep murking me!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s because you’re out there standing like a T-Rex! Start getting your arms past your legs, so you can protect your legs.’”
It wasn’t until after McKinney became an MMA fighter that he went from “T-Rex” to “T-Wrecks.” He laughs at the pun: “Kept the original name, but mixed it up a little, because I wreck people now.”
Like many fighters, McKinney may enjoy catching a slick submission, but his favorite way to end a fight is with a knockout. “I’ll choose the KO finish every time,” he exclaims, grinning. “There’s nothing like when a ref pushes you off the other guy like, ‘Yo, you’re too savage, man, you’re killing him!’ Versus when you’re both still standing – it’s way more satisfying when the ref pushes you off, and you walk away, and [the other guy] is still on the ground.”
McKinney knows what he’s talking about – “T-Wrecks” currently has five first-round KO finishes to his name. Mixing things up in the cage comes naturally to him, though. “I always wrestled, and I always had nasty, accurate hands,” says McKinney. “And [when I started MMA], it developed even more, and the technique with it.”
What’s the source of McKinney’s remarkable drive and discipline? “Dying twice in the back of an ambulance,” he says bluntly. “I ended up drinking and taking a lot of drugs, and ended up dying twice that night,” he elaborates. “I also ended up getting tased [by the police], and wrestling around with the cops for about an hour.”
When he survived that fateful night, McKinney chose to take his second lease on life as a sign from God. “I went and apologized [to the police officers] and thanked them for not killing me,” McKinney remembers. Reflecting on the experience, McKinney explains, “That’s why I won’t take this for granted. That’s why you guys see me going straight back to the gym today.”
McKinney had grown up wrestling and watching MMA, and he’d always wanted to fight in the octagon – but had never gotten around to buckling down and taking his training seriously. That near-death experience pushed him to take the leap: “I really wanted to do it, but [that night] was the final straw.”
Faith played a key role there. McKinney’s religious upbringing has long served as a source of guidance for him. “I feel like every black kid grew up in church,” he says, laughing. Raised in a Christian household, McKinney’s faith has seen him through hard times in and out of the cage.“[My faith] is why you guys can see me reaping these blessings,” says McKinney. In his experience, faith tends to be a tremendous teacher for athletes: “Don’t boast on yourself, or God will humble you.”
He’s also grateful to have the support of his hometown behind him. “I know I’m getting nothing but love and support from my city,” says McKinney, smiling. “And I love Spokane; they treat me like a king down there. I love it.”
McKinney’s ultimate goal is the lightweight belt, and he’s willing to fight anyone in his division on the way there. “Whoever they throw at me, I’m gonna sign that contract,” McKinney says. “Whoever, whenever, they can all get it. I’ll fight for the title right now. I really feel like I have the skill set to win right now. I’ve just got to show the world.”
When it comes to fighters who inspire him, McKinney looks beyond his own division: “The people I look up to in the fight game are out of my weight class – like Petr Yan, Cory Sandhagen, Israel Adesanya. I just love how well-rounded they are as martial artists. Those are the guys that I study. Those three.”
McKinney would also love the chance to fight in multiple weight classes himself. Like former two-division champs Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, and Amanda Nunes, “T-Wrecks” is hungry for the opportunity to make his mark as a “champ-champ.” “I’m definitely looking to be a two-division champ,” says McKinney. “I’m here to leave my name in history.”
As for strategy, McKinney doesn’t find himself particularly married to any specific fighting style in the cage. “I would say that I’m a complete mixed martial artist,” he says. “No real style – just a true mixed martial artist who trains it all. So that wherever the fight goes – whether it’s in the clinch, or on the ground – I’ll be as well-rounded as possible, training each category of martial arts.” Instead of molding himself as a specialist, he aims to be a real threat at all ranges of a fight.
“I started jiu-jitsu first,” says McKinney. “I knew I already had hands, so the first thing I tackled was jiu-jitsu, because I didn’t want to be beating some dude’s a**, and get caught in a submission, you know?” He’d seen it happen multiple times in the UFC, and was determined to avoid the same fate to the extent possible.
That mindset is one of many examples of McKinney’s perfectionism. “T-Wrecks” loves the sweet taste of victory, but he also refuses to rest on his laurels. “I live in the gym,” says McKinney. “My training camp doesn’t stop until I have that belt.”
Regarding his most recent victory, McKinney simply says, “There’s still a lot more to get done. It’s cool, but I got bigger goals. Like I tell people, my goal is to get the belt. I’m about to go train right after [this interview] – and until I get that belt, no celebration, no excitement, because until that’s done, my job’s not complete.”
Granted, part of his reluctance to celebrate his wins may stem from his now-viral celebration of his first win in the UFC – in which he KO’ed his opponent in the first round, only to suffer an injury on camera while celebrating. McKinney laughs at himself sheepishly now: “I strained my calf muscle. A lot of people don’t know, I wasn’t able to flex my calf for like three weeks.” He shakes his head. “It was crazy. I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I’ve ruptured my calf,’ but everything came back clear. All the ligaments were attached, nothing crazy. Like I said, God’s looking out for me.”
What went through McKinney’s head in that ill-fated moment of celebration? “That I was an idiot!” McKinney keeps grinning and shaking his head, still mildly embarrassed by his prior antics. “And I was like ‘shoot, I’m pissed!’” Regarding his second and most recent UFC victory, McKinney notes, “I didn’t want to celebrate too much this time – just act like I’ve been here before. I know I belong here, and I know that victory’s going to come, so I’m done acting like it’s new to me. Just stay humble, act like you’ve been there before, be a champion.”
McKinney may be a nose to the grindstone kind of guy, but he’s also human – and he still makes time to have fun outside of the gym. “Having my ‘me’ time is essential for me,” he says. He spends his down time relaxing at home and watching movies and television – he’s seen all the Rocky movies, and he loves the Rush Hour franchise. He’s also an anime fan who grew up on classics like Dragonball Z and Naruto, as well as western animation hits Danny Phantom and Avatar: The Last Airbender. “I just saw the Mugen Train movie,” he says, describing a spinoff of mega-popular action-fantasy anime series Demon Slayer. “It was pretty sick!”
Does he take inspiration into the cage from the fictional media he enjoys, a la UFC middleweight king and fellow anime fan Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya? McKinney laughs. “Nah, I keep it separate. Business before pleasure, that’s my motto.”
Adversity and success alike have taught McKinney to cherish not only his faith, but his connections to the people who have supported him through good times and bad. If he has one piece of advice to dole out to his fans, it’s to find people who will do the same for them. “Keep God and your family close,” says McKinney. “If you need some help, feel free to reach out. You never know who’s going through the same struggle. Just know that you’re not alone.”
To keep up with McKinney’s career and upcoming fights, follow him on Instagram.