It by no means sat proper with AJ McKee how little acclaim his father’s 20-year blended martial arts profession acquired.
The Bellator 263 headliner, who will face featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in a combat that wraps up the pandemic-delayed Featherweight World Grand Prix with $1 million up for grabs, is out to place some respect on his family identify.
“I never felt that my father [Antonio McKee] got the recognition or respect that he deserved in his career,” McKee not too long ago advised The Post over Zoom. “… So, me coming into my own career and just making sure that the last name gets the respect and recognition it deserves, that was a big key and a big part for me.”
The 26-year-old is properly on his solution to that objective. He’s 17-0 with 12 finishes, together with 5 in his previous six appearances. The newest got here within the event semifinals final November, when McKee locked in one of the heralded submissions of the yr: a modified neck crank at 71 seconds of the primary spherical in opposition to former Bellator bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell that’s been dubbed the “McKee-otine.”
Antonio McKee knew a factor or two about unbeaten streaks throughout his preventing days. The elder McKee, now 51, went 11-0-1 from Aug. 10, 2003 till a cut up determination loss in his lone UFC look on Jan. 1, 2011. That unbeaten run is about 400 days longer than AJ’s total skilled profession, which started on April 10, 2015.
But Antonio’s prime was spent largely toiling on the regional scene, in addition to a 4-0 mark with former league-based promotion IFL that produced a number of future UFC notables. His was a grinding type of preventing that not often led to finishes, a tough type aesthetically when it got here to successful over the knockout- and submission-hungry MMA followers of the post-”The Ultimate Fighter” growth. He completed his profession in September 2019 with a TKO win — solely his ninth end in a 30-6-2 profession — on the identical Bellator card his son earned an eight-second KO over Georgi Karakhanyan.
The means AJ sees it, his father’s type isn’t so totally different from his personal. But the youthful McKee labored along with his father to make tweaks to be extra well-rounded and keep away from needing the judges’ enter to determine a winner. Mission achieved, given his ever-growing spotlight reel.
“Being able to take someone down and hold them down, I’m capable of doing that,” AJ stated. “But I always want to give the fans what they want. They want a gory knockout. They want to see blood. They want to see something drastic happen in a fight.”
AJ McKee will sq. off in opposition to one other opponent identified for “drastic” happenings within the cage in Pitbull (32-4, 23 finishes), who additionally reigns as Bellator’s light-weight champion after beating current UFC 155-pound title challenger Michael Chandler by TKO in 61 seconds two years in the past. The twin champ is virtually Mr. Bellator, having competed for the promotion relationship again to April 2010, when it was constructed round its season tournaments. Those went out of style for a time earlier than CEO Scott Coker reinstated them as grand prix occasions meant to final a yr and targeted on one weight class at a time. Pitbull final misplaced at 145 kilos the identical yr McKee debuted, dropping the championship earlier than reclaiming it in April 2017. He’s since defended the belt efficiently 5 occasions.
McKee’s total profession has taken place beneath the Bellator banner, and he says he’s been “anxious” to face Pitbull because the very starting. However, his father and Coker had been set on him taking a extra pure, less-rushed profession arc towards the highest.
But the grand prix revealed what McKee certainly already believed about himself: He’s able to problem Pitbull eventually and take each of his opponent’s belts in succession.
“He’s a great fighter. He’s held the reins since I first stepped in that cage,” McKee stated. “He’s got multiple achievements and accolades that I look forward to conquering, becoming a champ-champ.”
Of course, the $1 million prize to the winner has some attract as properly. Seven-figure paydays are uncommon in MMA, and McKee already has his eye on a method he would deal with himself along with paying off his home and making investments.
“I’ve been looking at a Porsche,” McKee says with a smile. “That  GT2 RS has been calling my name for a while now.”