Over the weekend, the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix came one step closer to any eventuality.
The semifinal round of the featherweight Grand Prix saw current lightweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (32-4) do the quick work of Emmanuel Sanchez with a first-round guillotine choke.
It set the stage for a dream matchup between Bellator’s “homegrown” star, A.J. McKee (17-0), for the $1 million prize.
“Pitbull,” is already widely considered by many to be the best fighter in Bellator history.
.@PatricioPitbull 🔒'd up his 6️⃣th guillotine and his 7️⃣th straight win at #Bellator255!
He faces @AJMcKee101 in the final bout of the #FeatherweightWGP.#MMA #BellatorOnShowtime pic.twitter.com/Ie7WDQtzWO
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) April 5, 2021
At 25 years old, A.J. McKee is perceived as the future of Bellator MMA and the featherweight and potentially the lightweight division.
More than any other athlete in Bellator’s history, McKee has the potential to expand the brand. He is good-looking, intelligent, and explosive as hell.
Since his pro debut in 2015, he has only fought in Bellator, never played in the regional feeder systems. He has always come to win, and he has never been disappointed in that regard.
His lineage is top tier, with former MMA fighter Antonio McKee as his father, head coach, and Team Body Shop owner in Long Beach, CA.
For Bellator, which has a vacuum in the star power category minus Michael Chandler and the on-off again viral cage charisma of Michael “Venom” Page, McKee has the most potential.
After defeating former Bellator featherweight world champion Darrion Caldwell via first-round neck crank submission, McKee made a statement on the division in just over a minute.
However, although McKee’s status as a young phenom is undeniable, his next challenge will undoubtedly be his most significant.
Freire’s ten Bellator championship fight wins are most in the promotion’s history. Also, his 20 victories in Bellator competition are the most in company history.
His 19 Bellator featherweight victories are the most in the division’s history and his 13 Bellator stoppages in Bellator tie with Michael Chandler.
Freire and McKee share a record with 12 wins by stoppage, but A.J.’s six submission wins have him ahead of Freire’s five in the featherweight division.
The fight will be a potential watershed moment for Bellator, Pepsi, to UFC’s Coca-Cola.
If McKee takes it, he has already said he wants Freire’s lightweight belt next. For Bellator MMA, that is only a good problem.