Terrance âT-Wrecksâ McKinney may be a relatively new UFC prospect, but heâs 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.
Itâs an impressive resume, but âT-Wrecksâ shrugs it off. âThatâs just how I fight,â he tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times, all smiles and understated confidence. âI donât 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 â and getting the money to take care of my family.â
âI felt great going in,â McKinney says of the fight itself. âThe weight cut was easy. I did want the knockout,â he admits, âbut 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 â and sure enough, that brought me the victory.â
McKinneyâs perfectly-timed rear naked choke ended what was merely his second fight in the UFC, but heâs not fazed by the promotionâs grandeur. The octagon is where heâs comfortable. âI wasnât nervous at all,â he says of his transition from LFA to the UFC. âIt just all sank in, and I was like, âThis is where I belong.â I just kept telling myself, âThis is where you belong, man; this is what youâve been dreaming about.ââÂ
And what did you do today? Congratulations @twrecks155.— Asra Q. Nomani ? (@AsraNomani) February 27, 2022
âUFC commentators Michael Bisping and Paul Felder said Fares Ziam wasnât in any danger as Terrance McKinney cranked on his neck. Seconds later, Ziam was tapping out in the UFC Vegas 49 prelim.âpic.twitter.com/BVtFC4rXCT
With that growing collection of first-round finishes under his belt, has McKinney experienced any real differences when facing each opponent? âIt doesnât really matter to me at the end of the day,â he says. âMy job is to put on a show, and get out there and get the win.â
For McKinney, itâs all about having the right mindset: âItâs a fight. I donât even sweat it. Youâve got to think youâre gonna win. If you donât, youâre already defeated right there; youâre gonna get your a** whooped.â
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. âWeâre like Batman and Robin,â says McKinney. âWhatever he tells me to do, weâre getting the job done.â
âA lot of these coaches, I thank them all, because every part of my life, theyâre there right when I need them,â adds McKinney.
McKinney also credits his high school wrestling experience with his sense of grace under pressure: âI wrestled in high school â I wrestled like a thousand people. God prepared me for every moment, and thatâs why Iâm so composed.â 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. âI one hundred percent agree with that,â he says. âThatâs 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 wrestlerâs had a practice where theyâve cried. Weâve been through those hard times, and we know how to push through that.â
Does McKinney remember the first time he cried in wrestling practice? He smiles a little sheepishly. âYeah, 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.âÂ
His teammates were supportive: âWe all pushed each other to be the best version of ourselves.â They ribbed him a little, of course â âWhat high schoolers wouldnât? Itâs just part of growing up,â McKinney points out â 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. âTheyâre my brothers. Once weâve wrestled together, weâre locked in for life.â
High school wrestling is also where McKinney first earned the nickname âT-Wrecks.â He chuckles as he recounts the tale: âI got the name T-Wrecks when I was in high school because I had this ugly wrestling stance!â He mimics the stance, splaying his hands like the dinosaur he was named for. âI asked my friend, âWhy do they keep taking me down so easily? They keep murking me!â And he was like, âYeah, itâs because youâre out there standing like a T-Rex! Start getting your arms past your legs, so you can protect your legs.ââ
It wasnât until after McKinney became an MMA fighter that he went from âT-Rexâ to âT-Wrecks.â He laughs at the pun: âKept the original name, but mixed it up a little, because I wreck people now.â
Like many fighters, McKinney may enjoy catching a slick submission, but his favorite way to end a fight is with a knockout. âIâll choose the KO finish every time,â he exclaims, grinning. âThereâs nothing like when a ref pushes you off the other guy like, âYo, youâre too savage, man, youâre killing him!â Versus when youâre both still standing â itâs way more satisfying when the ref pushes you off, and you walk away, and [the other guy] is still on the ground.â
McKinney knows what heâs talking about â âT-Wrecksâ currently has five first-round KO finishes to his name. Mixing things up in the cage comes naturally to him, though. âI always wrestled, and I always had nasty, accurate hands,â says McKinney. âAnd [when I started MMA], it developed even more, and the technique with it.â
Whatâs the source of McKinneyâs remarkable drive and discipline? âDying twice in the back of an ambulance,â he says bluntly. âI ended up drinking and taking a lot of drugs, and ended up dying twice that night,â he elaborates. âI also ended up getting tased [by the police], and wrestling around with the cops for about an hour.â
When he survived that fateful night, McKinney chose to take his second lease on life as a sign from God. âI went and apologized [to the police officers] and thanked them for not killing me,â McKinney remembers. Reflecting on the experience, McKinney explains, âThatâs why I wonât take this for granted. Thatâs why you guys see me going straight back to the gym today.â
McKinney had grown up wrestling and watching MMA, and heâd always wanted to fight in the octagon â but had never gotten around to buckling down and taking his training seriously. That near-death experience pushed him to take the leap: âI really wanted to do it, but [that night] was the final straw.â
Faith played a key role there. McKinneyâs religious upbringing has long served as a source of guidance for him. âI feel like every black kid grew up in church,â he says, laughing. Raised in a Christian household, McKinneyâs faith has seen him through hard times in and out of the cage.â[My faith] is why you guys can see me reaping these blessings,â says McKinney. In his experience, faith tends to be a tremendous teacher for athletes: âDonât boast on yourself, or God will humble you.â
Heâs also grateful to have the support of his hometown behind him. âI know Iâm getting nothing but love and support from my city,â says McKinney, smiling. âAnd I love Spokane; they treat me like a king down there. I love it.â
McKinneyâs ultimate goal is the lightweight belt, and heâs willing to fight anyone in his division on the way there. âWhoever they throw at me, Iâm gonna sign that contract,â McKinney says. âWhoever, whenever, they can all get it. Iâll fight for the title right now. I really feel like I have the skill set to win right now. Iâve just got to show the world.â
When it comes to fighters who inspire him, McKinney looks beyond his own division: âThe people I look up to in the fight game are out of my weight class â 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.â
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, âT-Wrecksâ is hungry for the opportunity to make his mark as a âchamp-champ.â âIâm definitely looking to be a two-division champ,â says McKinney. âIâm here to leave my name in history.â
As for strategy, McKinney doesnât find himself particularly married to any specific fighting style in the cage. âI would say that Iâm a complete mixed martial artist,â he says. âNo real style â just a true mixed martial artist who trains it all. So that wherever the fight goes â whether itâs in the clinch, or on the ground â Iâll be as well-rounded as possible, training each category of martial arts.â Instead of molding himself as a specialist, he aims to be a real threat at all ranges of a fight.
âI started jiu-jitsu first,â says McKinney. âI knew I already had hands, so the first thing I tackled was jiu-jitsu, because I didnât want to be beating some dudeâs a**, and get caught in a submission, you know?â Heâd 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 McKinneyâs perfectionism. âT-Wrecksâ loves the sweet taste of victory, but he also refuses to rest on his laurels. âI live in the gym,â says McKinney. âMy training camp doesnât stop until I have that belt.â
Regarding his most recent victory, McKinney simply says, âThereâs still a lot more to get done. Itâs cool, but I got bigger goals. Like I tell people, my goal is to get the belt. Iâm about to go train right after [this interview] â and until I get that belt, no celebration, no excitement, because until thatâs done, my jobâs not complete.âÂ
Granted, part of his reluctance to celebrate his wins may stem from his now-viral celebration of his first win in the UFC â in which he KOâed his opponent in the first round, only to suffer an injury on camera while celebrating. McKinney laughs at himself sheepishly now: âI strained my calf muscle. A lot of people donât know, I wasnât able to flex my calf for like three weeks.â He shakes his head. âIt was crazy. I was like, âoh my goodness, Iâve ruptured my calf,â but everything came back clear. All the ligaments were attached, nothing crazy. Like I said, Godâs looking out for me.â
What went through McKinneyâs head in that ill-fated moment of celebration? âThat I was an idiot!â McKinney keeps grinning and shaking his head, still mildly embarrassed by his prior antics. âAnd I was like âshoot, Iâm pissed!ââ Regarding his second and most recent UFC victory, McKinney notes, âI didnât want to celebrate too much this time â just act like Iâve been here before. I know I belong here, and I know that victoryâs going to come, so Iâm done acting like itâs new to me. Just stay humble, act like youâve been there before, be a champion.â
McKinney may be a nose to the grindstone kind of guy, but heâs also human â and he still makes time to have fun outside of the gym. âHaving my âmeâ time is essential for me,â he says. He spends his down time relaxing at home and watching movies and television â heâs seen all the Rocky movies, and he loves the Rush Hour franchise. Heâs 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. âI just saw the Mugen Train movie,â he says, describing a spinoff of mega-popular action-fantasy anime series Demon Slayer. âIt was pretty sick!â
Does he take inspiration into the cage from the fictional media he enjoys, a la UFC middleweight king and fellow anime fan Israel âThe Last Stylebenderâ Adesanya? McKinney laughs. âNah, I keep it separate. Business before pleasure, thatâs my motto.â
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, itâs to find people who will do the same for them. âKeep God and your family close,â says McKinney. âIf you need some help, feel free to reach out. You never know whoâs going through the same struggle. Just know that youâre not alone.â
To keep up with McKinneyâs career and upcoming fights, follow him on Instagram.