Having fought the entirety of his career inside the confines of the Bellator MMA cage, there was arguably no better representative of the promotion to top the show at Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN on New Year’s Eve than A.J. McKee.
On the Japanese promotion’s side, RIZIN Fighting Federation lightweight champ Roberto de Souza looked to boost his profile against the American, in what was almost certainly his toughest match-up to date.
Despite McKee being a former featherweight, he had a slight reach advantage over Brazil’s de Souza. Early in the fight, following a McKee side kick, the RIZIN champ was able to get the fight where he wanted it, jumping guard and clamping down on McKee before he could pull free. de Souza worked on a triangle, with McKee landing hammerfists. Surprisingly enough, when McKee freed himself, he opted to engage on the ground again.
McKee came close to landing a knee on “Satoshi” Souza on the ground, a perfectly legal move. But moments later, de Souza finally latched on with a triangle. McKee was able to fight that off, keeping the Brazilian pressed against the ring post, leaving him without the necessary room to work. McKee then dropped elbows from the top while de Souza continued to hunt submissions.
At the end of the frame, the ref opted to move the pair out of the corner, much to the annoyance of McKee, who was happy where the fight was. It wouldn’t matter, with the round wrapping up without any further drama.
McKee fired off a spinning kick early in round two, but it was de Souza who grazed the Belaltor fighter with a head kick. “Satoshi” then marched forward, but McKee fired a jump knee. The RIZIN champ was then briefly under fire, falling to his back half from a push following a kick to the body. Then it was back to the feet, before de Souza managed to get McKee to the mat, taking the back! With half a round remaining, de Souza locked on with a body triangle. From there, he went hunting for the rear-naked choke.
With ample time to work, de Souza looked to slip an arm under the chin of McKee. Who, for his part, fired punches back while fighting the hands and trying to turn in and reserve. McKee finally opted to escape out the back door, then fired a soccer kick! He stomped the mid-section of de Souza next, as the Brazilian looked to trap a leg. McKee then backed off, letting Roberto de Souza up just prior to the bell sounding.
Round three opened with some heavy exchanges, before McKee went after a d’arce choke. de Souza freed himself, and would later get McKee in a tight guillotine. McKee gutted it out, finally turning and wrenching himself free. Things didn’t get any easier from there. While both men were tired, de Souza took advantage of McKee jumping a guillotine. While he came up short on an arm-triangle choke, the Brazilian managed to take the back standing at the end of the round, coming close on a rear-naked choke attempt. McKee jumped, rolled, and tried to get de Souza off him, but would finish the round with the RIZIN champ on his back.
Despite the adversity, McKee would go on to win it on the scorecards, with Bellator MMA fighters going 5-0 against their Japanese counterparts in RIZIN.
Official Result: A.J. McKee def. Roberto de Souza by unanimous decision