Antonio “Mandingo” McKee’s eyes tell a story of 25 wins 3 draws and 2 loses. He sees his past opponents in his mind, throws the combos that worked, and corrects his form for the combos that didn’t. You can hear the determination as his teeth grit and grind putting as much meaning and passion in his shadow boxing as he does in a fight.
The camaraderie among the men at the McKee owned Body Shop in Lakewood, CA. is more like that of brothers than students. He leads them through warm-ups then instructs them to shadow box on their own for 10 minutes. They all go through their different rhythms, the boxers throwing more punches then kicks, the kick boxers more knees then hooks, wrestlers hitting their shots with great explosion and power. McKee however, goes through his rhythm with great passion, concentration and a gaze much like that of a war veteran.
Next comes a vigorous resistance and weight training routine. There is no rest in any of his training sessions resulting in constant fatigue. “You don’t grind, you don’t shine,” Antonio says as he finishes his set. His collogues try to keep pace with him but few can match his work ethic. Grunts and howls of pain echo in the gym as muscles fill with lactic acid, but this is where Antonio works, all the men training with him are always in a state of complete exhaustion. The main focus of their method is to live in the pain, be comfortable in the pain and become one with it, so when it’s at its worst you can still think clearly.
Still living in the pain, Antonio instructs his men to line up for sprints. After they ran for what seemed like an eternity, the mats were reduced to shallow pools of sweat and spit. The weight training and cardio reduce the men to Jell-o, wobbling and stumbling with fatuige, as Antonio say’s it’s time to wrap your hands and prepare for sparring.
What followed was the greatest display of heart, discipline, and drive I have ever seen. Antonio picked four men of completely different styles, sizes, and weights to be his sparring partners. For one minute at a time he would fight full-bore against one opponent, then mid round, that partner would step out, and a fresh one would step in. Minute after minute new opponents took their turn drilling Antonio not one of these men made it easy for Antonio, each had a different set of skills and strengths.
I could see the frustration in Antonio’s eyes as he constantly had to readjust, but always toward the last few seconds he would find his timing and his strikes would find their mark. After what seemed like an hour, the bell rang the first round was over. All the men would address the gaps in Antonio’s techniques, the holes in his defense, and like a sponge Antonio would soak every detail. He is his biggest critic and his greatest teacher.
I asked Antonio if he had anything he wanted to say, he simply stated with no ego intended, “Tell them I’m the baddest @#%$! on the planet.”
I looked deep in his eyes and can honestly say I believe him.