A.J. McKee is paired up with Georgi Karakhanyan in the opening round of Bellator’s featherweight grand prix, wants champ Patricio Pitbull moving forward — if the Brazilian can survive that long.
Los Angeles, CA — Fourteen straight wins. Fourteen wins in Bellator’s featherweight division. What does A.J. McKee have to do to earn himself a title shot in Bellator?
Apparently, work his way through a sixteen man featherweight grand prix. It’s not exactly how McKee, the hottest prospect in MMA right now, wanted things to go down. But, if anything is getting him amped up for the tournament, which kicks off this September, “it’s those six zeros,” McKee told Cageside Press at this week’s media day for Bellator 226 and Bellator 228. “It’s those six zeros that’s got me motivated. At this point, 14-0, I see myself as 0-0.”
0-0 entering the grand pix, in other words. But there’s another number in play as well. A cool million. The prize money for the winner of the tournament. “Seven zeros is what I’m going after this fight. I call it seven 0’s. It’s six 0’s for that cheque, the million dollar cheque, and the one 0 to come out of that tournament 4-0, and stay undefeated. So that’s what I’m going after.”
All that, “it’s a lot of motivation. I was kind of pissed off at Bellator a little bit, just ’cause I’ve fought fourteen people in the division. I just fought a two-time former champ, made it look so easy, and now I have to go into a sixteen man tournament.” On top of that, “I don’t get my title shot first, it goes to a 35’er. But I mean, it’s part of the game, you know? It’s entertainment.”
And it’s fuel to his fire. Make no mistake, McKee is fired up, and there is only one man he insists on facing before all is said and done. “Pitbull. Pitbull. Pitbull.”
In case that wasn’t clear, Patricio Pitbull. The double champ (lightweight and featherweight) will face Juan Archuleta in the opening round of the grand prix, with the title on the line. McKee doesn’t think the Brazilian will escape the tournament unscathed. “I don’t think he can make it through the tournament, honestly. And that’s why I’m kind of pissed off to. But hey, as long as I get a million dollars and my belt, I’m good.”
On another topic, McKee’s good friend and training partner Aaron Pico recently parted ways with Team Bodyshop, the gym founded by McKee’s father Antonio. Pico, another promising prospect, moved over to Jackson-Wink MMA. But A.J. is still looking out for his good friend. “I feel like after the Corrales fight, it was kind of too soon to come back.” But Pico did, and after being knocked out by Henry Corrales in January, was finished via TKO by Adam Borics in June. “It’s the fight game, that’s still my boy. More than the fighting more than anything, I’m always worried about him. F*ck fighting, f*ck this tournament. That’s been my A-1 since Day 1. I’m more worried about him mentally and physically than the fight game or anything else.”
In other words, there’s no hard feelings about the change in teams. “We both know we’re cool. It’s just we’re walking our paths. There was a time and point when I went off and did my wrestling thing, and he went off and did his wrestling thing, we didn’t talk for a couple years,” McKee recalled. “We talk, we’ve been cordial. I kind of haven’t had a phone for a couple months. But we talk, we’re cool, we text now and then. Probably go to New Mexico, train with him, go kick it out there, see what’s up.”
What’s up next for A.J. McKee, however, is Georgi Karakhanyan. “He’s a great opponent. He’s got great ground game, pretty good stand-up. He’s a well-rounded fighter,” McKee observed. “He’s been in the division, he’s fought most of the top guys in our division. Georgi’s no roll-over.”
Interestingly, it’s a fight Karakhanyan called for. “His dream has come true. He asked for this fight. Now, sixteen man tournament, I’m his first round. Let’s see how things go. He asked for the fight, now you got your fight.” For the rest of the field, McKee had a simple message. “I’m coming.”
A.J. McKee vs. Georgi Karakhanyan takes place at Bellator 228 on September 28, 2019 at The Forum in Los Angeles, CA.