A.J. McKee: The Precipice of Greatness

A.J. McKee is an anomaly.

The 26-year-old son of Antonio McKee began his professional career only six years ago in the Bellator MMA cage.

It is rare for a fighter to have his debut fight at one of the biggest promotions in the world and even more rare for him to win every one devastatingly.

However, as McKee has progressed, beating former two-time Bellator Featherweight World Champion Pat Curran. Then he ran through the Bellator Featherweight Tournament by laying out former WSOF Featherweight Champion Georgi Karakhanyan in 8 seconds and submitting former Bellator Bantamweight World Champion Darrion Caldwell 1:11 of the first round.

Now McKee (17-0, 6 K.O.s) faces two-weight class world champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (32-4, 11 KOs) on July 31st atThe Forum in the final tournament for the featherweight title, million-dollar payday, and to keep his ‘0’ intact.

“I’ve been calling Pitbull’s name for six years. He’s ignored and acted like he doesn’t know who I am, so for me, that automatically shows me something. You either see fear in me, or you already know what the issue is, and you’re trying to compromise somehow. At the end of the day, everything else is irrelevant. When we step into that cage, these are going to do the talking.”

Still, for A.J., motivation waned as time progressed, a pandemic took hold, and his final tournament face-off seemed further away.

“I went through a little rough patch. It wasn’t anything compared to the life my father lived, but we all have our trials and tribulations in life, and it’s being able to grow and learn from it, so you don’t fall victim to the same stuff over and over. For me, that was a big part.”

Coach and father Antonio McKee sees A.J. as his fighting legacy. Born from trauma, McKee has sacrificed to propel his son to become the best in the world.

“God is good. When I grew up, I lived a different life. Growing up, it wasn’t good, and I was dealing with a lot of stuff Black men who grow up in the streets of L.A. with no mother and no father had to deal with. But I made the right decisions. I never got caught for anything that I did that could have put me away for the rest of my life, and I found my drive and motivation through my son.

“He would say things like, ‘Daddy, if you die, can I die with you?’ I didn’t give a shit about living; I didn’t have a problem killing either. But it hit me one day when he said, ‘Dad, whatever you do and wherever you go, I want to go with you,’ when he said that, I looked at him, and then it hit me because I was ready to clock out. But then I realized I needed to be here for him. He had nothing but me, so that gave me the drive and the strength to say I need to find a better way out, and that was a challenge within itself, but you know what? I made it this far.

“I did my thing as a wrestler; I beat the best in the world. I beat the Olympic champion, John Smith, who never lost, but I didn’t have the mindset to critique my mental and learn how to be a decent human being. I was a grimy, ugly type of guy, and once I learned that things started shifting a little different, and now you have it. I did things to keep him in private school; I didn’t do something to buy cars, loud music, and jewelry; I did it to pay his school tuition.”

From coaching former world champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tyron Woodley, McKee’s most incredible greatness will be his son.

“His ability to read movement is just amazing, and it’s something you can’t teach. It’s something you develop over time.”

The self-proclaimed young GOAT has been gunning for Pitbull from day one. He comes with a chip on his shoulder, feeling ignored by Pitbull from the outset of his Bellator MMA career.

“A win would make me the face of the franchise, and then I want to run it back for that second belt as well so we can solidify that stamp on that,” said A.J. “Before Conor (McGregor) became the champ-champ, these are things I said A.J. was going to do, and these are things I’m going to do. Now with it, all in reach, at will grasp it and bring it together.

“I’m ready man, this has been a long journey, and it’s all here. I went through the trials and tribulations of not wanting to fight to where I’m hungry again, to where I love it; I found the passion for what I do again. Especially the long break, going through knee surgery, and a lot has opened up in my mind in the last year and a half to two years. I’m looking forward to going in there and doing what I do best and that’s putting on a good show. ‘The Mercenary’ does one thing, he signs the contract and takes a person out.”

 

 

 

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.