THREE Belfast amateur fighters are to make their debut appearances in the United States this month at a prestigious Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event.
Colin McKee, Gerard Donnelly and Lee McKibbin will fight in front of 5000 fans at the Mobile Civic Centre Arena, in Alabama, on May 31 alongside a host of professional stars at the Xtreme Total Combat (XTC) IV tournament.
The trio’s appearance on the fight card has been secured by Belfast-based promoter MAX Xtreme Fighting, who staged a sell-out MAX Xtreme Fighting event in Belfast’s King’s Hall in March.
Highlight of the night will be middleweight fighter Lee “The Dragon” McKibbin’s challenge for the XTC world amateur title.
The 25-year-old scaffolder, who has been recovering from a broken hand sustained during his last fight in Glasgow in March, will face undefeated US champion James Nevels for the title belt.
Lee said: “I broke my hand during the first round of my last fight, but it’s healed up very well since then. I’ve been doing some intense training and I’m in good shape for the fight.
“It’ll be in front of an American audience who probably don’t know anything about fighters from this side of the Atlantic. I can’t wait to go over and show them exactly how good we are.
“There will be no pressure on me, as none of my family or friends are coming to Alabama to watch, so I’ll be relaxed and able to go and give it my best shot. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to get the victory to win the title.”
Another highlight of the night will be the match-up between Northern Irish fitness instructor Colin “The Gift” McKee and US pro star Todd Leitermann.
Colin, who works at LA Fitness in Belfast and has been involved with MMA for the past six years, said he was eager to showcase his fighting skills in front of a US audience.
The 24-year-old added: “I’ve mostly fought in Northern Ireland and Holland over the past five or six years, but this will be the first time I’ve fought in the States. I’m sure it will be the biggest crowd I’ve ever fought in front of, so I am really looking forward to it.
“However, I think the experience will be similar to what you get in events that are held in Europe. I don’t imagine it will be any harder – or easier – than other fights I have faced in the past. I’ve been training well and I’m confident of doing well against my opponent.”
Fellow Belfast fighter Gerard Donnelly is also gearing up for his first appearance in the US, in what will be only his second-ever bout.
The 26-year-old computer programmer said: “My last fight was about 18 months ago and I had no experience of the sport whatsoever. I was up on points but lost by submission just seconds before it was due to end.
“Since then, I’ve been working hard and doing a lot of cardio-vascular training so that I’m ready for this fight. I’ve learned a lot more about the sport since last time, so I’m confident that I can knock my opponent out quickly.
“There is going to be a crowd of about 5000 people watching, which is a lot more than there was for my first fight in Ireland. It will be very nerve-wracking being in front of an audience that big, but I’m confident it won’t affect my concentration.”
The sport, in which specially trained fighters compete in an octagonal ring using highly-evolved techniques, is now regarded as the world’s fastest growing in terms of popularity and boasts A-list fans such as George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and Paris Hilton.
Such is the variety of fighting disciplines utilised in the Mixed Martial Arts, it is considered the decathlon of martial arts.
The Belfast trio will also be heading to Miami prior to the Mobile show to train with the American Top Team at their gym, widely acknowledged as one of the best in the world.
Jonny Burrows, MAX Xtreme Fighting spokesman, said: “We are thrilled to be involved with the XTC IV event, which will see three of our best young fighters taking on competitors from the United States.
“MMA fighters are some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world and I’m sure that Colin, Gerard and Lee will impress the crowd in Mobile with their skills.
“We hope that their appearance in Alabama will lead to more exciting opportunities between ourselves and major US fight promotions.”