When A.J. McKee steps into the cage against Patricio Pitbull at Bellator 263, he’ll be stepping into a fight he’s been looking forward to for years.
But more specifically, he’s been waiting for this fight since November, when McKee pulled off a Submission of the Year finish on Darrion Caldwell. That punched McKee’s ticket to the featherweight grand prix finale.
Then the waiting began. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the other semifinal bout didn’t take place until April. That saw Patricio Pitbull defeat Emmanuel Sanchez, setting up the finale many had hoped for since day one.
During the months — and frankly years — of waiting, McKee (17-0) has compiled a perfect record in the Bellator cage, where he has spent his entire professional fighting career. That’s not to say things have come easy, and at points, he had to rekindle his fire for the fight game.
What brought that back? “I would just say knowing my calling, man,” McKee told Cageside Press during Wednesday’s Bellator 263 press conference, which officially announced the pairing as the July card’s headliner. “I went through a little rough patch. It probably obviously isn’t nothing compared to the life my father lived, but we all have our trials and tribulations in life, and it’s being able to grow in those and learn from it so you don’t fall victim to the same stuff over and over and over. For me, that was a big part.”
As for the wait for Pitbull, “I don’t know, man, since November— I’ve been calling Pitbull’s name for six years, he’s ignored it and acted like he doesn’t know who I am,” McKee exclaimed. “So for me, that automatically shows me something. Either you see fear in me, or you already know what the issue is, and you’re just trying to compromise somehow.”
At the end of the day, added McKee, “everything else is irrelevant. When we step into that cage, these [fists] are going to do the talking. That’s what I’m waiting for, that’s what I’ve prepared for. And that’s what I’ve looked forward to for four or five years.” McKee suggested looking back to his interviews five years prior as evidence. “You got to my interviews five years ago, I’m calling his name.” Pitbull’s response, he added, was “‘A.J., who’s A.J.?’ You know exactly who the f*ck A.J. is. Don’t sit here and play like you got amnesia, dog. You know exactly who I am and you know exactly what I want and exactly what I’m coming to take. And that’s why you’re sitting in that room enjoying those belts right now. Because both those mugs are coming home with me.”
Pitbull, also part of the festivities via webcam from his home, sidestepped a question about his willingness to defend his lightweight belt should McKee win the featherweight grand prix. Instead, he responded directly to McKee. “That’s very curious, because his father told us I’m the easiest fight,” said Pitbull.
“You are, because we’ve been preparing for it since day one,” chimed in McKee. “That’s where you f*cked up. You’ve ignored me. You’ve ignored me, and played your game. You can’t ignore me. I’m coming.”
“I’m ready for you too,” responded Pitbull. We’ll know who is truly ready for who come July — but Bellator appears to have a can’t miss grudge match set for the featherweight grand prix finale. Let’s just hope it’s worth the wait.
Bellator 263 takes place on Saturday, July 31 at The Forum in Los Angeles, CA. The event airs live on Showtime.