Anybody with their finger on the heartbeat of MMA can see A.J. McKee has a vivid future. The Bellator featherweight contender is poised to be a marquee identify, with 2021 set as much as be a defining 12 months.
With an ideal report and the steerage of his father – retired MMA veteran Antonio McKee – there’s an opportunity McKee (17-0 MMA, 17-0 BMMA) ends this 12 months with not one, however two Bellator titles in his possession.
McKee is trying subsequent on the Bellator featherweight grand prix remaining, the place he’ll problem the winner of Patricio Freire vs. Emmanuel Sanchez for the belt and $1 million in prize cash. It’s a outstanding place, and one McKee is aware of he didn’t attain with out some success.
Though it looks as if McKee has been round for some time as a result of everything of his 17-fight profession has been with Bellator, he’s nonetheless simply 25. He mentioned his stage of maturity has grown considerably up to now 12-18 months, however it wasn’t at all times that means. McKee admits he possibly loved his youth somewhat an excessive amount of, nonetheless, it by no means caught up with him contained in the cage.
Now with a transparent thoughts and clear focus, McKee admits he’s lucky to be the place he’s. Undefeated and unscathed, he mentioned there’s no want to have a backslide.
“I’d actually have to present all of the glory to God on that one,” McKee advised MMA Junkie. “There have been actually fights I shouldn’t have received, for positive. There have been fights I shouldn’t have fought. I wasn’t prepared. Having the ability to take a lesson from every of these conditions and with the ability to develop from it, I feel that has been the important thing for me. If I’d’ve taken on a number of the prime names – I felt like I may’ve carried out it regardless – the distinction was me being ready. Each combat I’m going into now I really feel like I’m ready one hundred pc. It ought to appear to be it’s simple. I ought to stroll by way of these guys. That’s my talent set, 10 occasions extra superior than another athlete, particularly in my weight class. I’m grateful I went by way of what I went by way of.”
McKee doesn’t conceal from the actual fact he had his enjoyable in his early 20s. He mentioned it by no means obtained to the purpose the place the whole lot round him was vulnerable to collapsing due to poor decision-making, however he positively wasn’t doing all of the issues that will be historically considered as essential to thrive on the highest stage of MMA.
In accordance with McKee, there was no singular incident that altered his strategy for the higher. He mentioned it was one thing that slowly constructed up over time.
“I feel it was an accumulation,” McKee mentioned. “It was an accumulation of getting my father journey my ass and level me in the appropriate path to the purpose he stopped speaking. And if my dad stops speaking, you’re actually messing up. Everybody as people as they become old they get wiser. Sure habits, sure life that you simply’re dwelling – they sort of develop outdated. I feel me seeing the trail that I’m on in the intervening time and what’s laying forward, I sort of use that as motivation. Partying isn’t going wherever.
“I can go be a multi-millionaire then partying is true there. I can throw my very own events. I feel getting older I obtained my priorities proper and I’ve obtained a household to feed. Doing it for your loved ones is an enormous key for me. I’ve obtained lots of people that search for at me and rely on me and I feel that was an enormous motivating think about sort of altering my methods and getting my life collectively.”
Though the street hasn’t at all times been easy outdoors the cage, McKee has been unbelievable inside it. His 17-fight profitable streak is the longest in Bellator historical past, and his 12 finishes throughout that run are good for second-most in firm historical past.
There’s been criticism alongside the way in which – each from followers and McKee himself – that the construct has been too gradual. With McKee’s subsequent combat slated for a title, although, it’s arduous to argue the corporate hasn’t carried out it the appropriate means.
Bellator president Scott Coker lately advised MMA Junkie that McKee is en path to turning into an MMA “a megastar for Bellator and the sport,” and pointed to the matchmaking course of as a contributor. McKee couldn’t see the massive image earlier on, he mentioned, however now can’t disagree with the method.
“I’ve to present all of the credit score to my father and Scott Coker, who got here to my final beginner combat and signed me straight to Bellator,” McKee mentioned. “He’s seen quite a bit on this firm. He’s been ready for me to return into my stardom. Being an precise star and never simply being a supreme athlete and being the most effective on this planet. Truly being a star and with the ability to cope with the lights, the strain, the cash and simply the life-style. I’ve to take my hat off to Scott Coker and my father. They labored diligently day in and time out to construct me.”
A part of the problem in being an MMA promoter, although, and particularly one outdoors the UFC, is that there’s at all times a threat in increase a fighter, just for them to slide away elsewhere. McKee is probably coming into that hazard zone, as a result of he has simply two fights remaining on his present Bellator contract.
If McKee finally ends up profitable the featherweight match and taking the belt, there’s championship language in Bellator contracts that will stop him from coming into a free company scenario the place he had final energy. McKee nonetheless intends of getting a complete lot of management of his future, although, and thinks he’s going to be able to have the ultimate say.
“You know the way contracts work – they’ve obtained clauses and whatnot – however we’ll sit down,” McKee mentioned. “We’re going to should do some sit-down after this match for positive. As soon as I get by way of this match and knock ‘Pitbull’s’ ass out and shock the world once more, it’s going to present me quite a lot of leverage. I’ve at all times mentioned it. I’m the Floyd Mayweather of MMA, so I’m trying to make that Floyd cash and $100 million checks and be undefeated. Khabib (Nurmagomedov is) the one different particular person to do it, and he’s not doing it like me.”
The extra McKee’s star rises, the extra dialogue will are available in regard to how he compares with different prime featherweights within the UFC. The concept of blending it up with the largest names within the recreation is difficult for McKee to brush off completely, and he hinted that it’s an argument he’ll finally need to settle.
“I’m going to make some examples out of individuals,” McKee mentioned. “I can’t wait. I’m trying throughout on the UFC like, ‘I’d like to have a discipline day with a few of these guys.’ Brian Ortega put me in a triangle after I was 19. If it ever occurs I’ve obtained to get that child again. Him, (Max) Holloway, (Alexander) Volkanovski – these are the three I actually watch. For those who’re not prime three I don’t actually care. That’s my mindset. For those who’re not on the prime of the meals chain, why do I even care about you?”
The items of McKee’s puzzle seem like coming collectively and becoming properly. The best way ahead goes to consist of massive fights in opposition to notable names, and regardless of which promotional banner these fights come beneath, McKee mentioned it received’t be lengthy till he’s without end the A-side.
“That is the brand new period, the brand new wave,” McKee mentioned. “I’m coming full power. I actually don’t care who leads to the finals, and I feel that’s sort of scaring folks much more. I actually simply don’t care. On the finish of the day I’m not getting within the cage to combat them. They’re getting within the cage to combat me. I’m going to go in there and I’m going to proceed to do what I do finest.”