It by no means sat proper with AJ McKee how little acclaim his father’s 20-year blended martial arts profession acquired.
The Bellator 263 headliner, who will face featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire on Saturday at The Discussion board in Inglewood, Calif., in a struggle that wraps up the pandemic-delayed Featherweight World Grand Prix with $1 million up for grabs, is out to place some respect on his household identify.
“I by no means felt that my father [Antonio McKee] acquired the popularity or respect that he deserved in his profession,” McKee not too long ago instructed The Publish over Zoom. “… So, me coming into my very own profession and simply ensuring that the final identify will get the respect and recognition it deserves, that was a giant key and a giant half for me.”
The 26-year-old is effectively on his strategy to that objective. He’s 17-0 with 12 finishes, together with 5 in his previous six appearances. The most recent got here within the event semifinals final November, when McKee locked in one of the vital heralded submissions of the yr: a modified neck crank at 71 seconds of the primary spherical in opposition to former Bellator bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell that’s been dubbed the “McKee-otine.”
Antonio McKee knew a factor or two about unbeaten streaks throughout his combating days. The elder McKee, now 51, went 11-0-1 from Aug. 10, 2003 till a cut up determination loss in his lone UFC look on Jan. 1, 2011. That unbeaten run is about 400 days longer than AJ’s whole skilled profession, which started on April 10, 2015.
However Antonio’s prime was spent largely toiling on the regional scene, in addition to a 4-0 mark with former league-based promotion IFL that produced a number of future UFC notables. His was a grinding type of combating that hardly ever led to finishes, a troublesome type aesthetically when it got here to profitable over the knockout- and submission-hungry MMA followers of the post-”The Final Fighter” growth. He completed his profession in September 2019 with a TKO win — solely his ninth end in a 30-6-2 profession — on the identical Bellator card his son earned an eight-second KO over Georgi Karakhanyan.
The best way AJ sees it, his father’s type isn’t so completely different from his personal. However the youthful McKee labored together with his father to make tweaks to be extra well-rounded and keep away from needing the judges’ enter to determine a winner. Mission achieved, given his ever-growing spotlight reel.
“With the ability to take somebody down and maintain them down, I’m able to doing that,” AJ stated. “However I all the time wish to give the followers what they need. They need a gory knockout. They wish to see blood. They wish to see one thing drastic occur in a struggle.”
AJ McKee will sq. off in opposition to one other opponent recognized for “drastic” happenings within the cage in Pitbull (32-4, 23 finishes), who additionally reigns as Bellator’s light-weight champion after beating current UFC 155-pound title challenger Michael Chandler by TKO in 61 seconds two years in the past. The twin champ is virtually Mr. Bellator, having competed for the promotion courting again to April 2010, when it was constructed round its season tournaments. These went out of trend for a time earlier than CEO Scott Coker reinstated them as grand prix occasions supposed to final a yr and centered on one weight class at a time. Pitbull final misplaced at 145 kilos the identical yr McKee debuted, dropping the championship earlier than reclaiming it in April 2017. He’s since defended the belt efficiently 5 instances.
McKee’s whole profession has taken place below the Bellator banner, and he says he’s been “anxious” to face Pitbull because the very starting. Nevertheless, his father and Coker have been set on him taking a extra pure, less-rushed profession arc towards the highest.
However the grand prix revealed what McKee certainly already believed about himself: He’s able to problem Pitbull eventually and take each of his opponent’s belts in succession.
“He’s an amazing fighter. He’s held the reins since I first stepped in that cage,” McKee stated. “He’s acquired a number of achievements and accolades that I sit up for conquering, turning into a champ-champ.”
In fact, the $1 million prize to the winner has some attract as effectively. Seven-figure paydays are uncommon in MMA, and McKee already has his eye on a technique he would deal with himself along with paying off his home and making investments.
“I’ve been taking a look at a Porsche,” McKee says with a smile. “That  GT2 RS has been calling my identify for some time now.”