Prior to walking to the cage at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Saturday night, A.J. McKee envisioned a quick finish of Patricio Freire in the Bellator 263 headliner.
“Honestly, I dreamt the fight,” McKee said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference (video via MMAFighting.com). “I knew I won the fight. I prayed about it and the same night I had a vision. So I knew I had a victory but it wasn’t the dream that I had which was peculiar. Now, maybe that’s the 155-pound title that I saw. I don’t know. I’m just enjoying this moment, man. I knew it was going to come.”
McKee made short work of the man who many regarded as the greatest fighter in Bellator history. He stunned Freire with a head kick, dropped him near the fence with a flurry of punches and after a premature celebration, locked in a guillotine choke which eventually rendered the Brazilian unconscious at the 1:57 mark of the first round.
“Man, to do it the way I did it, I said I was going to do it in stylistic fashion,” McKee said. “Done in one. When I rocked him, I was just like, ‘That’s it.’ I just knew it. After the head kick, I hit him with that uppercut and I just saw him quit. He didn’t need anymore. But like the ref said, ‘Don’t stop punching until I tell you to.’”
Now 18-0, with all of those victories coming under the Bellator banner, McKee believes his days at featherweight are numbered. However, he’s willing to make what is becoming an increasingly difficult weight cut if the right opportunity arises. McKee says he’ll even put up the $1 million prize he received for winning the Bellator featherweight grand prix.
“Being at 145 pounds isn’t the easiest,” McKee said. “Maybe we get some superfights going but I’m pretty much done with the division at 145 pounds, so hop up to 155 pounds. He’s [Freire] the best 145-pounder – was the best. I’ve pretty much been saying it. Now people are seeing it and believing it. I am the best 145-pounder in the world whether it’s UFC, ONE FC, PFL, I don’t care who it is.
“I’ve got $1 million cash in my bank and I’d put it up against anybody else. I’m sure Showtime and Bellator, they’ll match it. Let’s do some superfights. Let’s get some big stuff going. Let’s change this sport, like I’ve been saying. Let’s do it. Let’s unify these belts.”
While Bellator has engaged in some cross promotion with Rizin Fighting Federation in recent years, competing against the best featherweights in other organizations — particularly the UFC — remains farfetched. If facing the best in the UFC was a possibility, McKee already has an opponent in mind. Regardless of what the future holds, McKee has a clear vision of his standing in the sport.
“I would say Max Holloway,” McKee said of the former UFC champ. “That was always my dream fight, superfight, as a kid. I’ve watched him just pick apart people. But at the end fo the day, I’m the best 145-pounder in the world. I don’t care who it is. I’m going to show up and show out every time.”
McKee didn’t entirely rule out further appearances at featherweight, but there’s already an appealing reason to move up: a rematch with Freire, who is also Bellator’s reigning lightweight king.
“It depends on who steps up to the line,” he said. “Health is key. Making 145 pounds, I can do it, but as I get older, as I get bigger, as I get stronger, as I become more of a man, obviously it’s going to get harder and harder and harder. I’ve been wanting to move up. COVID, so forth, things have come into play where it’s kept me here longer than expected, but God’s timing is perfect.”
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