Hanging by skin and muscle was McKinney’s snapped fibula and tibia bones, the result of a kick he landed in his fifth professional Mixed Martial Arts fight a year ago Sunday in Tacoma.
Spectators at the Emerald Queen Casino winced as the former Shadle Park High School and North Idaho College wrestling star proceeded to fight through the horrific injury, attempting to beat Tyrone Henderson, a featherweight he swiftly defeated months earlier via an armbar.
A ringside physician ended the tussle, resulting in the first loss of McKinney’s young career.
Trainers, friends and family members looked on in shock as he was gurneyed from the octagon, wondering when – or if – he’d fully recover.
Wearing his usual beaming smile through the pain, McKinney said he’d return in a few months, a seemingly bold proclamation while being carted off.
“With an injury like that, a lot of fighters would get depressed,” McKinney said. “But I knew I could get back soon. I was blessed.”
He’s won three fights since, each in quick and convincing fashion.
“Nobody snaps their leg to where it’s disgustingly flopping around and continues fighting,” said Rick Little, McKinney’s coach. “He just ignored it and tried to do what he had to do win.
“He’s going to make millions of dollars in this sport, I have no doubt. He’s the most talented kid I’ve had by far, and it’s not even close. His heart matches his skill, which is very rare.”
Little, owner and head coach of Spokane’s Sik Jitsu Fighting Systems, would know.
Little has helped send a throng of Spokane fighters to MMA’s highest, most lucrative level in recent years, including Ultimate Fighting Championship figures Julianna Pena, Michael Chiesa, Sam Sicilia and Daniel Spitz.
McKinney, 24, may be next.
On Tuesday at the UFC Training Center in Las Vegas, McKinney (7-1) will fight for a UFC contract against Sean Woodson (5-0) as part of Dana White’s Contender Series, a 6 p.m. event broadcast on ESPN+.
White, the president of UFC, will scout and offer contracts to fighters he deems worthy of fighting at MMA’s foremost level.
Sicilia believes McKinney will be a UFC sensation sooner than later.
“Its hard to beat up a guy who’s having that much fun out there,” said Sicilia, a Mt. Spokane graduate. “He’s on the fast track (to the UFC). Very tough, quick, athletic and kind of lanky. He reminds me of a younger Anderson Silva.”
McKinney has dreamed of fighting in the UFC since he was a freshman, and considered skipping college to directly jump into the brutal sport after graduating from Shadle Park in 2013, where he won back-to-back State 3A wrestling championships at 138 pounds.
He looked up to Chiesa, a 2006 Shadle graduate who balanced MMA and his time as a volunteer wrestling coach for the Highlanders when McKinney was in high school.
But drugs nearly killed McKinney before landing his first amateur MMA punch, the product of mushrooms and acid in June 2015.
Technically, he did die. His heart stopped twice.
Life after near-death
Spokane Police body camera footage shows officers approaching a young, shirtless African-American male sweating profusely, bleeding from the head and sitting up against a wooden fence. He was reported to have been on a bad acid trip, breaking a window in the process.
The man, McKinney, is acting strangely and erratically, exhibiting symptoms of drug-induced excited delirium. Officers begin to question McKinney, asking him what drugs he may have taken before calling for an ambulance.
But when police attempt to detain McKinney, asking the 20-year-old to roll onto his stomach until medics arrive, he becomes resistant and ultimately engages in a physical altercation with the officers.
McKinney was tased in the melee, but the shock didn’t subdue him. Officers needed to apply a lateral neck restraint to hold McKinney down until medics arrived.
On the way to Holy Family Hospital, McKinney, who said he had no prior run-ins with law enforcement, flatlined twice in the ambulance.
“I died, but I felt like I was dreaming,” McKinney recalled. “I remember it being very peaceful. I remember being in a place with an ocean.”
He survived, but his dreams of a college national championship ultimately perished.
McKinney, a junior college All-American at NIC as a freshman, redshirted at NCAA Division II Chadron State during the 2014-2015 season before his arrest, but the Nebraska school didn’t kick him off the team, he said.
He had a successful redshirt sophomore campaign in 2016, being named the NCAA Division II Wrestler of the Week and winning the Division I-loaded University of Wyoming Cowboy Open, but consistently traveling from Nebraska to Spokane for court hearings took its toll, so he left the school.
“I was hanging out with the wrong people,” McKinney said of his former drug use. “That whole experience made me realize that I could have died and was taking life for granted.
“After all that happened, I think I was the only 20-year-old college kid in the country who was grounded by their mom that summer,”
McKinney was sentenced to 250 hours of community service, repeatedly showing the video of his embarrassing fight with police to schools around Spokane to help at-risk youth from going down the same path.
McKinney later transferred to another Division II school, Notre Dame College of Ohio, but left after the first semester.
He wanted to start earning money in the octagon, making his professional debut in October 2017 at CageSport 47 in Tacoma, which would have been the start of his senior college wrestling season.
McKinney’s mother, Kitara Johnson, is the pillar of her single parent household.
A former Chicago gang member, Johnson found refuge by joining the Army, moving to Eastern Washington in the early 2000s from a military base in Germany.
She’s since earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is the Chief Development Officer at Excelsior, a nonprofit youth wellness and educational center. Johnson is also on the Minority and Justice Commission of the Washington Supreme Court.
Johnson, a mother of five, became emotional when recalling her oldest child’s circuitous path, from a toddler growing up around gang activity to fighting in front of a national audience for a UFC contract.
“It’s been quite the journey,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, I didn’t have the money for him for lunch when he was younger, so thankfully he was a wrestler cutting weight.”
Johnson said she was raped at age 16. McKinney was born 9 months later with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
When McKinney was a toddler, Johnson said, he witnessed his mother’s hand being broken by a gang member’s baseball bat.
When the family moved to a military base in Germany, McKinney was picked on in elementary school for being small. After relocating to rural Davenport, Washington, he was picked on for being black, Johnson said.
With his mom balancing work, school and motherhood on a shoe-string budget, McKinney, who moved to Spokane at age 13, used wrestling as a social outlet.
McKinney wore a singlet around the house. Johnson said she’d often have to creative with her budget to send him to wrestling camps.
Now he’s on the cusp of a childhood dream she admittedly wasn’t keen on.
“He wanted to fight in the UFC, and I said, ‘No, you’re going to college,’ ” Johnson said. “So this is very surreal. I’m so proud of him.”
Johnson has let McKinney live at home as he trains and works various odd jobs in construction and yard maintenance.
“He recently told me, ‘Mom, one day I’m going to sign a big UFC contract and pay off your house,’ ” Johnson said. “I said, ‘OK, show me.’ ”
McKinney plans on it.
“She’s an incredible woman,” McKinney said Johnson. “She has done so much for me.”
A special talent
Sik Jitsu had become a factory of successful MMA fighters, and a 20-year-old McKinney wanted in on the action.
Little wasn’t interested in coaching McKinney, though, despite his apparent physical gifts and sterling wrestling resume.
Most great MMA fighters don’t hit their stride until their late 20s, Little said, and he believed the college-aged McKinney was too immature to fight at an elite level.
But McKinney persisted and showed Little his commitment matched his athleticism.
“He’s a memory-bank freak,” Little said. “You show him something, and he learns it one day while it takes other people weeks.”
“Usually, when someone fights, they take a few days off to recover,” said Sicilia, who is slated to fight Pedro Carvalho on Sept. 7 at the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix. “But Terrance is back training the following Monday.
“And he’s such a likable guy. He’s humble, but he’s not afraid to call guys out.”
McKinney wastes little time with opposition, recording six of his seven wins in the first round, two of which were under a minute.
Armbars. Rear-naked chokes. Heel hooks. Punches. McKinney is winning in a variety of ways.
“I don’t see how he can not be a champion,” Little said. “He has the skill set to be a UFC world champion.”
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