Bellator 277: McKee Looks to Strengthen Grip on Bellator in Pitbull Rematch

AJ McKee and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire face off ahead of their rematch at Bellator 277. Photo: Lucas Noonan/Bellator

Bellator featherweight champion AJ McKee has proven he’s everything he said he was, but his heated rival Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is looking to exact revenge at Bellator 277.

There is little left to prove for MMA super prospect AJ McKee.  “The Mercenary” is undefeated at 18-0 and the 26 year-old has already added veterans such as Darrion Caldwell, Pat Curran, and Derek Campos to his resume. Last July, he recorded the biggest victory of his career by claiming both the Grand Prix and undisputed Bellator featherweight titles against the best fighter in the promotion’s history: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.  After cementing his place as the best prospect seen in many years, the question now is what can McKee do to continue raising his stock?

While much of the talk last year revolved around a potential free agency for McKee, it has since been confirmed that he has two more bouts in addition to the rematch with Freire before his contract is complete.  Before discussing any change of scenery, he will now look to maximize his value ahead of impending talks.  A second victory over Freire would be a significant feather in his cap.  Winning a belt at lightweight, whether against Freire’s brother or anyone else, would be the next best thing he could look to attempt.  Should he stay at 145 pounds, then a bout with fellow young talent Adam Borics would also add to his status.

The man to potentially lay waste to those lofty goals is the dominant former champion Freire.  From 2017 to 2021, “Pitbull” put together a run as impressive as any fighter did within that span with a seven fight win-streak that includes victories over the likes of Michael Chandler, Juan Archuleta, Daniel Straus, Daniel Wiechel, and Pedro Carvalho.  Apart from becoming a two-division champion, Freire broke records for victories overall, victories in title fights, and numerous other categories as he cemented his place as the winningest fighter in the company’s history.

If there is a man with the proven experience and credentials to cool McKee’s fire, it should be Freire.  Going into his second attempt, however, the Brazilian powerhouse has his back against the wall.  A second loss to McKee would put him in the proverbial no-man’s land in terms of title aspirations.  Furthermore, he also relinquished his lightweight title in order to focus on the featherweight division and his brother now holds the belt which (for the time being) ends any talk of moving up for another title run their.  Considering their first bout ended quickly in the first round, Freire enters with the same element of surprise as he looks to use the weapons he did not have a chance to show last time.

Freire will need to implement a multifaceted offense early as the dynamic McKee does his best work when he is able to establish his range in the early rounds.  Giving up significant height and reach, “Pitbull” must look to use kicks to open up his hands and be very disciplined in his shot selection to get in on the rangier McKee.  For the champion, keeping Freire at the end of his strikes will be crucial as it will open him up for more devastating shots as the challenger takes risks to close the distance.  Further, McKee should introduce the threat of the takedown as to make Freire even more hesitant to use his full arsenal on the feet for fear of being countered.

For Freire, rising stars such as Borics or former McKee teammate Aaron Pico stand out as the most likely challengers to be next for the dominant Brazilian.  A McKee victory would open up several scenarios.  While a bout with Borics would be a fight between two of Bellator’s best developed prospects, a move up to lightweight to face Freire’s brother Patricky to become a two-division champion would be among the best fights to be made in the company.