Antonio McKee (above; file photo) rolls with Shinya Aoki on May 29. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It’s official: Antonio McKee will be the man to face Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki for a non-title bout later this month in Saitama, Japan.
Following a three-week game of musical chairs which involved fellow UFC vets Jamie Varner and Willamy Freire, McKee was finally announced as Aoki’s opponent by Dream Event Producer Keiichi Sasahara during a Sunday press conference at Tokyo’s Deep Official Gym Impact.
The matchup of 155-pound veterans completes the card for Dream “Fight for Japan,” which takes place May 29 at Saitama Super Arena. Headlining the 11-fight bill are the semifinals of Dream’s 2011 bantamweight grand prix, the quarterfinals of which will open the night’s proceedings.
Aoki, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Paraestra Tokyo head Yuki Nakai, revealed during Sunday’s press conference that he has begun supplementing his standard training with trips to Evolve MMA in Singapore. The gym, which Aoki described as “the best facility in Asia,” is known for its muay Thai program, run by members of Thailand’s famed Sityodtong Camp.
Aoki’s fight with McKee will mark his first appearance in the Japanese ring since a disastrous Dec. 31 knockout loss in a “mixed rules” bout with kickboxer Yuichiro Nagashima. However, Aoki has not been defeated under MMA rules since his April 2010 decision loss to Strikeforce ace Gilbert Melendez, finishing three of four opponents since. In the second half of 2010, the “Tobikan Judan” rolled through world-ranked Tatsuya Kawajiri, Pride vet Marcus Aurelio, and Thai boxing convert Yokthai Sithoar; on April 9, the 28-year-old ground specialist started 2011 off right by recording a 93-second neck crank submission of Lyle Beerbohm in the Strikeforce cage.
McKee, 41, will compete for the first time since his January release from the UFC. The Bodyshop Fitness Team leader had a seven-year, 15-fight unbeaten streak snapped in a split decision loss to Jacob Volkmann on Jan. 1 at UFC 125. A former member of the International Fight League’s Tokyo Sabres squad, McKee has competed in Japan once before, notching a unanimous nod over Kiuma Kunioku under the K-1 Hero’s banner in 2006. McKee’s record of 25-4-2 includes decision wins against Aurelio, Toby Imada, Carlo Prater.