A.J. McKee appears to have completed his transformation from blue-chip prospect to legitimate title contender in Bellator MMA’s featherweight division.
The Team Bodyshop star waylaid John Teixeira da Conceicao in the first round of their Bellator 205 main event on Friday at the CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. McKee needed just 69 seconds to get the job done against a man who had never before been finished, as he improved to 12-0 and drove his stock even higher at 145 pounds.
McKee masked his intentions with kicks to the head and body, keeping the Brazilian guessing while they exchanged in the center of the cage. He misfired on a spinning heel kick but ignited a scramble by falling to the ground ever so briefly. A volley of punches from both men followed, as McKee delivered a devastating left shovel uppercut to da Conceicao’s face that short-circuited the Nova Uniao rep where he stood. Referee Mike Beltran was on the scene in a blink, but McKee took one look at “Macapra” and knee nothing further was necessary.
In the aftermath of Bellator 205, here are four matches that ought to be made:
A.J. McKee vs. Patricio Freire-Emmanuel Sanchez winner: Groomed for greatness from the start, McKee has lived up to expectations and then some. Now 23 and showing signs of further development, the “Mercenary” has rattled off 12 consecutive victories -- half of them first-round finishes -- to start his career. Bellator matchmakers have slowly but surely increased his degree of difficulty, and McKee has cleared every hurdle placed in front of him, a majority of them with room to spare. Freire will defend his featherweight championship against Roufusport’s Sanchez at Bellator 209 on Nov. 15.
Rafael Lovato Jr. vs. Gegard Mousasi-Rory MacDonald winner: At a point in his career when most fighters begin to hear the whispers of Father Time, Lovato seems to be accelerating. The multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion overcame an uneventful start to remain undefeated, as he submitted John Salter with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their co-main event. Lovato, 35, has finished eight of his first nine opponents, six of them via submission, and emerged as a serious threat to those who occupy the top of Bellator’s 185-pound weight class. Mousasi will put the middleweight crown on the line when he meets welterweight titleholder Rory MacDonald in a champion-versus-champion superfight on Sept. 29.
Veta Arteaga vs. Juliana Velasquez: Arteaga once again refused to break, as she walked through crisp punching combinations from Denise Kielholtz to submit the reigning Bellator kickboxing flyweight champion with a standing guillotine in the second round of their featured pairing. Still working out the kinks as a mixed martial artist, Kielholtz bowed out 4:24 into Round 2. Arteaga fancies herself as a title contender at 125 pounds but likely has more work to do before she challenges for the throne. Split decision losses to Bruna Ellen and Anastasia Yankova continue to hold prominent spots on her resume. Velasquez moved to 7-0 at Bellator 197 in April, when she put away Rebecca Ruth with a body kick in the third round.
Patricky Freire vs. Benson Henderson-Saad Awad winner: Freire stepped up his push for another crack at promotional gold, as he cut down One Championship and Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Roger Huerta in the second round of their lightweight showcase. Since being knocked out by Michael Chandler in a failed bid to capture the vacant 155-pound title, “Pitbull” has pieced together a four-fight winning streak. Freire has recorded 13 wins inside the Bellator cage against various levels of competition, establishing himself as a true company man. With current lightweight champion Brent Primus waiting to settle his score with the aforementioned Chandler, Henderson and Awad will square off at Bellator 208 on Oct. 13. Both men lost decisions in previous encounters with Freire.