A.J. McKee Cements Young GOAT Status With Bellator MMA Win

Bellator MMA

A.J. “The Mercenary” McKee has arrived.

The culmination of the nearly two-year featherweight tournament resulted in McKee becoming the featherweight champion and winner of the one million dollar prize.

A.J. McKee (18-0) defeated C-Patricio Pitbull (32-5) via submission (guillotine) at 1:57 of round one.

McKee is the most outstanding athlete and the top undefeated prospect in the promotion’s history. However, what is most astonishing is how he emerged victorious, notching an emphatic submission win in the first round.

“We are just getting started,” said McKee. “This is only the beginning. When it first started and they were selecting the bracket, I wanted the third or fourth pick. But God told me that I am number one so when I picked that first draw, I knew that I was number one and now I am.”

Former Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire didn’t complain and saluted A.J. on the win.

“On this night, he was great,” Freire said Saturday night in his post-fight press conference. “He kicked my head and he almost knocked me out and he almost finished me on the same night, so he was good. Congratulations. Now he’s the champion.”

With the win, McKee extended his winning streak to 18 fights and took home not one but two belts, the Bellator Featherweight Championship and the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix.

McKee won in front of a partisan home crowd at the world-famous Forum in Los Angeles. McKee was born and raised in Long Beach and trains in Lakewood, California currently.

“Mentality is the key. You have to put the work in and my dad always says, hard work beats talent.”

The son of former MMA fighter Antonio McKee, the younger McKee wants to pursue the lightweight belt, which Patricio “Pitbull” Freire also holds. A.J. started his professional career in 2015 in Bellator MMA, an unheard of proposition for most professional fighters.

Since then he has defeated everyone placed in front of him dramatically and now is a champion and tournament winner.

The loss marked an end to a seven-fight win streak that stretched back 2016 for Freire, as well as being the first time in Freire’s 17-year career that the Brazilian has been finished.

Heading into Bellator 263, “Pitbull” was widely considered to be the greatest fighter in Bellator history as well as the promotion’s most decorated champion. He still holds records for the most wins (20), fights (24), title bouts (12), title wins (10), and finishes in Bellator history (13), and indicated that his loss to McKee would only make him better in the long run.

With Pitbull remaining the Bellator lightweight champion the energy is lining up for another round between the two rivals.

“Before the fight I think he told somebody something like this, and it’s a good thing,” Freire said. “He beat me in the featherweight division. I know he’s big, he has trouble cutting weight. And let’s think about it. I have a belt. I’m still a world champion.”

If the rematch does happen at 155 pounds, Freire’s team made one request.

“If we do something like that, this time I’d like it to be in Brazil,” said Freire’s head coach Eric Albarracin. “This guy’s been here for ten years, double champ-champ, the winningest fighter in Bellator history, most title defenses. Why are we fighting in Los Angeles? He’s the champ-champ. We’re fighting in the challenger’s hometown? Great, he won, give it all to him — he slept in his own bed, his dad’s a legend here, born and raised here, he’s born and raised here, 99 percent of the fans cheering for A.J., we’re in his house. Yet [Freire] is double champ-champ? Great, he won. Let’s do it in Brazil next. For one time, bring it to Brazil for the champ.

“Sixteen games in the NFL are played to get a home field advantage, 180 in baseball,” Albarracin continued. “He’s the world champ-champ. You ask a warrior, ‘Hey, where you want to fight?’ They say anywhere, any time. But obviously not in the home town of the challenger, giving him all the advantages — the youth, the range, the reach, and then throw all the home field advantage, where he’s sleeping and training in his own gym. We traveled 36 hours to get here. Let’s switch it up one time.”

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.