At the Bellator 228 open workouts Wednesday, Antonio McKee and son AJ McKee addressed making history as a father-son duo fighting on the same card.
Los Angeles, CA — Bellator 228 is a special night for a number of reasons — the continuation of the Bellator featherweight grand prix, and the 145lb title on the line. But on a more personal note it’s extra special for father and son duo Antonio McKee and AJ McKee. Because they’re competing on the same card.
Antonio had a solid run at lightweight in the late 90s and 2000s, at one point going eight years undefeated from 2003 to 2011. During that span, he won the MFC lightweight championship in Canada. He wound up one-and-done in the UFC after that, but continued competing until 2014.
Afterwards, he focused on his gym, Team Bodyshop, where son AJ, currently 14-0, has flourished. Now, however, Antonio is back in action for what is likely the last time, fighting William Sriyapai at a 165lb catchweight the earlier in the evening at Bellator 228, with AJ McKee fighting Georgi Karakhanyan later as part of the featherweight grand prix.
Asked about what fighting alongside his father meant, the younger McKee answered “it’s a lot, man.”
“For me, I kind of realized something over the years: McKee’s work better under pressure. So the more pressure there is, the better we work,” he explained. “With this being first round in a million dollar tournament, first father and son stepping in a cage together, it’s phenomenal man. It says a lot. It sets the tone for me to go out there and do what I gotta do. It puts a stamp on the finish of his career, and his great legacy, being eight years undefeated and whatnot.”
The McKees aren’t the only father and son duo in Bellator. Haim Gozali and son Aviv are also under contract, and fighting. But the pair have yet to compete on the same card. That distinction goes to Antonio and AJ.
“For me it’s continuing that legacy and pushing. Setting new and higher standards,” AJ McKee continued. “Doing things that can’t be done.” Case in point, “he went eight years undefeated, I’m three years undefeated. So I’ve got to top that first.”
Set to watch his father compete, AJ admitted that “I’m going to probably be nervous as hell, honestly. I’m going to be sh*tting bricks the whole fight. I get more nervous when my teammates fight than I do. So with my father, it’s, I don’t know. It’s going to be scary. If he wins, I’ve got to go win. If he loses, I’ve got to hurt Georgi. But regardless I’ve got a job to do and that’s kick Georgi’s ass”
McKee, father and son, with corner each other during their bouts, another twist. “Honestly there’s no pressure this time, and that’s what’s kind of scary. If I lose, I can use that as an advantage in the corner with him, saying ‘hey I lost, you’ve got to bring home the bacon,'” Antonio McKee said. “If I win, then I still say the same thing, ‘hey son, I won, you’d better win, you can’t let this happen.'”
As for his own fight, Antonio added that “I’m scared that I’m not angry for the first time in a fight. I’m not pissed off. I’m not mad. I don’t have any animosity.” That’s something he used to turn to his advantage. “I used to fight off that adrenaline,” he said. “Now I’m just calm, everything in my life is great. My son’s 14-0, my gym is successful, my guy’s are undefeated. I’m kind of scared, like this is too easy.”
Getting licensed was not so easy, however. Apparently because the California State Athletic Commission had concerns due to the elder McKee’s age, a youthful 49, and inactivity.
“They didn’t understand how I was in such great shape. They were like ‘this doesn’t make sense, with your age and your numbers.'” That led to some additional testing, but as McKee pointed out, he’s been keeping up with the young bucks he coaches.
“I train year round with these guys. When they got a camp, I got a camp. I’ve got ten guys that got camps, I’m doing camps ten times a year. So I’m always in shape. Shape was easy. It’s staying injury free, and being natural, showing people ‘look, you can do this naturally, you don’t need to be on PEDs and steroids.’ I hate that, that this sport has developed such a reputation for that, and I want to be the guy to say ‘you don’t have to do that.’
Watch the full Bellator 228 open workout scrum with Antonio McKee and AJ McKee above!