A.J. McKee is ready to shed the “prospect” label.
The 22-year-old Team Bodyshop representative has established himself as one of the top up-and-coming talents in Bellator MMA, posting a 9-0 record under the California-based promotion’s banner since his debut in April 2015. Still, McKee hasn’t yet earned the signature victory that would catapult him into the upper echelon of featherweight contenders.
“I don’t give a f--k what anybody says because I’m still kicking ass, taking names and getting checks. I really don’t care whether they love me or they hate me, said McKee, who is the son of longtime MMA veteran Antonio McKee. “I haven’t given anybody a reason to hate me. Clearly people hate on me because of my dad’s past. They think I’m trying to live up to his name. I feel I’ve already passed his name. His job as a parent is to make me better than him. He made sure of that. Out of nine fights I’ve got six finishes in the first round. That’s already a better version. I’ve got the wrestling, I make sure I take someone down at least one time in every fight, whether it’s the last 10 seconds of the third round or it’s the first minute.
“If all my nine fights I’ve probably been hit five times,” he continued. “For me to go out there and entertain the way I do and put on a show and not get hit, I really don’t care what people have to say. They say I haven’t fought anybody. Well f--k, who do you want me to fight? I know who I want to fight. The only person who matters. That’s the person with the belt.”
McKee’s record includes a trio of victories in 2017, and “The Mercenary” will attempt to go for victory No. 4 this year when he faces Brian Moore in the Bellator 187 headliner on Friday in Dublin. McKee was originally slated for the co-main event but was elevated to the marquee when James Gallagher was forced to drop out of the card due to injury. McKee didn’t understand why he and Gallagher weren’t scheduled to face each other on the card to begin with, especially since the Irish prospect has been calling him out recently.
“Let’s put it this way: If he comes to L.A. and I’m the main event and he’s co-main, I don’t give a s--t, he’s not fighting co-main, he’s fighting me in the main event in my hometown, in my city,” McKee said. “That’s my clique. So the fact that he was allowing me to come in here and fight as co-main under him….I smell p---y all over that. That’s how that is.”
Instead, McKee will square off against Moore, who trains at SBG Ireland with Gallagher. The 30-year-old Irishman owns a 10-5 career mark and has notable losses to current featherweight No. 1 contender Daniel Weichel and four-time UFC competitor Mike Wilkinson.
“He’s a small guy. I’ve got half a foot inch reach-plus on him. A couple inches height. I’m going to be a lot stronger,” McKee said. “Everyone always says I don’t fight anybody and I’ve fought nobodies. He’s fought some big-name opponents, a couple of title contenders.”
McKee hopes to make a statement against Moore in front of the Irish crowd and get the type of victory that will propel him further up the 145-pound ladder.
“I expect to go out there and get a finish. I want to put him out in the first, but Brian’s tough, he’s not going to break in five minutes. The second 10 minutes I feel I’ll get a finish,” he said. “I’m tired of the talk, I’m tired of ‘Oh he’s a prospect.’ I’ve proven not to be a prospect, because no prospect’s done what I’ve done. No one’s breaking records, no one’s doing the things that I’m doing. It’s only time. Pitbull’s got that belt. I’ve got a leash and a kennel waiting for that dog. I’ll take him to the pound whenever they’re ready.”
The aforementioned “Pitbull,” Patricio Freire, will defend his featherweight crown next week against Daniel Weichel at Bellator 188. In reality, McKee realizes that a win over Moore isn’t likely to earn him the No. 1 contender’s spot, so he has another opponent in mind should all go as planned on Friday.
“I would love to go fight Pat Curran and get a title shot after that,” McKee said. “He’s been out and back in, and he’s still winning. I wouldn’t mind going and fighting Pat. I’ve been watching him the past few years. I’ll fight anybody top 3. I want somebody top 3 and then title shot right away.”