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A.J. McKee: ‘I’m No Prospect, I’m the Young GOAT’

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A.J. McKee Bellator

*Update: Per Bellator press release, Emmanuel Sanchez has been forced to withdraw injured from his upcoming bout at Bellator 166. McKee will now face Ray Wood (7-2 MMA, 1-1 BMMA).*


21-year-old A.J. McKee takes on Emmanuel Sanchez in the co-main event of Bellator 166: Dantas vs. Warren 2 next Friday, December 2nd. McKee is looking to improve on his 6-0 professional MMA record which, thus far, has seen him finish all 6 of his opponents inside the distance. If he wants to keep up that streak, however, he’ll have to hand the 26-year-old Sanchez the first stoppage loss of his career.
 
“He’s bringing a great record and he’s fought a lot of good names,” A.J. says, “I’ve been analysing my weight class and I’ve kind of broke it down; Straus is the current champ, Pitbull is out, I would throw Daniel Weichel at number 2, Pat Curran at number 3, Georgi Karakhanyan at 4 and Emmanuel Sanchez at number 5. Sanchez has already fought number 2 and number 3, and they both went to decisions. Going out there and finishing him in the first or second round will make a pretty loud statement in the division, doing something none of these basic fighters in the division could do.
 
“This fight will finish in the second round,” he adds, “The second round, 3 minutes in at the latest. I’m not looking to let this fight go to the scorecards. I’ve already let one fighter get 30 seconds out of the first round, and Emanuel Sanchez definitely has a tank on him, but I feel he’s another basic fighter.”
 
The Bellator fighter, son of UFC vet Antonio McKee, certainly believes in his ability. He may be young, but don’t call him a prospect.
 
“Everyone’s talking about prospects,” A.J. says, “I don’t see myself as a prospect, I see myself as the young GOAT. I want to be the greatest of all time, and so far with my record being flawless, I feel I am the GOAT and I just need to continue to prove myself. I’m not the young prospect they think I am. I don’t feel like I’m a prospect at all. They’re trying to gauge me and see what level they can fill me in at, every fight I’m stepping up a level and they’re all ending the same, and that’s with me having my hand raised with another finish. I don’t feel any prospect in my weight class is on my level, so for them to classify me as a prospect, I kind of take that as an insult. I’m going to continue to work as hard as I can until I get to the top, and once I get to the top I’m going to work 10 times harder.
 
“That belt, that’s all I want,” he adds, “I want that 145 lb belt then I’ll move up to 155 lbs and take my second belt. Being at 145 lbs is a decent weight cut, it takes some time. If I was able to go up to 55, I’d be a monster with another level of power and ferocity for people to deal with. Right now, my mind is set on that belt. With Straus being out, if he can’t fight it needs to be vacated and they need to make an interim belt or something.”
 
It’s a level of confidence that is clearly built at Team BodyShop, where, training under his father, he is joined by the likes of Joey Davis, ‘Baby Slice’ and former Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Emanuel Newton.
 
“Some people take confidence as cockiness,” says McKee, “Some people take it as ‘Oh he’s an A-hole,’ but at the end of the day if you’re not confident in your craft, and you’re not confident that you’ve perfected your craft and you know that it’s gonna work, then what’s the point in trying to become a champion? That’s the overall achievement; to become a champion. Most guys, they kind of doubt themselves sometimes. When I go in that cage, I know that when that door locks, nothing is going to stop me from trying to rip that dude’s head off. I guarantee that anybody that fights me is never going to want to fight me a second time.
 
“I’ll spar with Emanuel Newton,” he adds, “And Emanuel Newton knows every time he goes with me he’s going to be in for a fight. I’ll go with Cheick Kongo, it doesn’t matter. Whoever you put me in front of, it’s going to be a fight and everyone in the gym knows that. We have every angle and every aspect in our gym covered, with everyone covering a different style. We have ‘Baby Slice’ who’s a hard-hitter, Joey Davis who’s a 4 time national champion, you’ve got Jesse Juarez, Emanuel Newton with his awkward style which is sort of where I got my style from, I kinda do my own Feng Shui on it. We’ve literally got anything and everything in our gym.”
 
‘Baby Slice,’ aka Kevin Ferguson Jr, lost his professional debut at Bellator 165. McKee, who also made his pro debut under the Bellator banner, and Slice are very close, and it seems like everyone in the team are keeping the result in perspective.
 
“He lives with me, that’s like one of my new brothers,” A.J. says, “He’s alright, it’s his first fight you know, coming off one amateur fight straight into a pro fight. That was an amazing fight too, he beat the brakes off that dude the entire first and second round. I was extremely proud, it’s just little things in the game, there’s a couple of things he needs to tighten up on, but it was an amazing fight and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He went out there and put on a show, win or lose, he put on a show and the people loved it. They still cheered him out of the stadium at the end of the day. That being his first fight, fighting in a huge arena like that, there’s a lot of pressure on you, especially having to live up to his father’s legacy and his father’s name. I’m extremely proud of him.”
 
Bellator announced at that event that they’d be visiting McKee’s home state of California in February for the return of Fedor Emelianenko. A.J. wants to fight on that card, though realises he may need to be booked elsewhere if he’s after a main event slot.
 
“He’s [Fedor] probably gonna headline and be the main event, but I would love to be on the card,” he says, “If it’s a title fight though, then I need to be the main event. I feel every time I fight I steal the show so why not make me a main event? I’m moving up, I went from main card to co-main event so hopefully my next fight I’ll be the main event because I’m going to continue to steal the show.
 
“I’m loving that they’re bringing the younger guys onto the main card and having the older generation fighters, the bigger names who have a following, headline so the younger guys under them are getting their names out there. If they have a spectacular performance like I’ve been having, the people are going to start to recognise them. That makes the organisation happy and the organisation will make you happy. It’s just as much entertainment and business as it is fighting.”
 
Prospect or not, he’s one of the most highly-touted young fighters in MMA right now and certainly has the confidence in his ability. I believe Bellator have more promising young fighters than any other MMA promotion right now, and I’m excited to see their journeys over the next few years.
 
A.J. McKee takes on Emmanuel Sanchez Ray Wood at Bellator 166: Dantas vs. Warren 2, Friday, December 2nd.

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Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Refereeing’s Loss is Bellator’s Gain

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When former Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith left the organization last week, not many expected MMA veteran referee, John McCarthy, to be his replacement. There is little doubt that McCarthy will make an excellent color analyst. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed that the sport is losing one of the best and most experienced referees.

McCarthy has been part of the fabric of MMA and the UFC in particular, since 1993. He was hugely influential in creating and enforcing the rules of the cage that have changed MMA into the respected sport it is today. Back in early to mid-nineties, the ‘sport’ was fairly labeled by some critics as ‘human cockfighting’. Without McCarthy as an instrumental player in changing regulations and rules, who knows where the MMA would be today.

What we have grown to appreciate most about McCarthy over the past two decades is how simple he makes this tough job look, which can be credited to years of experience and dedication. To the layman, it would appear that it’s a simple as stopping the fight when a fighter is knocked out or submitted. MMA fans know there’s a lot more to it than that.

It’s difficult to remember a moment in recent memory where McCarthy has let a fight go too long, or even stopped a fight too soon. His timing is almost always perfect. His composure and rationale in the cage are unmatched. When McCarthy is the third man in the Octagon we know the fighters are in safe hands.

It’s worth reiterating how important McCarthy is in maintaining the standard of referring and judging in the sport. The sport of MMA is still very young and is growing rapidly and so are the rules. The former LAPD police officer created his own training school known as C.O.M.M.A.N.D. The course teaches the next generation of MMA referees and judges, and there is no better person to be educated by. Referees must complete this or a similar course run by Herb Dean to be licensed as an official.

Former fighter Frank Trigg, who has pursued refereeing since his career wound down, has taken the course. He recently appeared on The MMA Hour to explain just how tough C.O.M.M.A.N.D is. It took Trigg three attempts to pass, emphasizing just how difficult a career path officiating is.

While ‘Big John’ as he is more affectionately known hasn’t completely left refereeing, he will likely no longer be seen in the cage at the biggest shows. The pool of referees trusted with the big title fights is rather small. Normally McCarthy and Herb Dean are tasked with the important title fights.

It’s not all bad that McCarthy is stepping aside for the time being. The likes of Mark Smith, Jason Herzog, and Chris Tognoni have all shown they are capable officials. There is now a great opportunity for them to move into the main event slots. There are also the likes of Yves Lavigne, Mike Beltran and Marc Goddard who can be trusted to referee the big fights.

While it is surprising, it’s understandable that McCarthy is looking for new career ventures. It is no secret that MMA referees are poorly paid relative to other sporting officials. Las Vegas often discloses referee pay when assignments are announced. The pay tends to range between $1000 and $2000 for the night. Trigg explained on The MMA hour that there is no money in becoming a referee and that most also have full-time jobs. McCarthy’s passion for the sport of MMA has been the biggest incentive for refereeing. It is totally understandable that he would take a bigger payday and put all his knowledge of the sport to good use in the commentary booth.

McCarthy will almost certainly be as dedicated to his new job as he was with his refereeing duties. He can also offer a fascinating insight into the officiating of a fight that nobody else can offer. If there wasn’t already an excuse to watch Bellator 192 on January 20th, headlined by Rory MacDonald vs Douglas Lima, then there most definitely is now.

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Chael Sonnen vs. Rampage Jackson the new main event at Bellator 192

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Bellator is getting ready to kick off their heavyweight grand prix at Bellator 192 on January 20th. The grand prix gets started with two former UFC greats who have now set their sights on Bellator gold, Chael Sonnen and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Today it was announced that this heavyweight matchup of two ordinarily light heavyweights will be getting the bump up to the main event. The reason for the change has not been announced.

The main event was scheduled to be the much anticipated welterweight matchup between champion Douglas Lima and former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald. Bellator has been promoting this event as such the welterweight title fight would get top billing. Earlier this week the fighters involved in the main and co-main event were part of a conference call. At the time there was no mention of the switch to the lineup.

This fight between Sonnen and Jackson is just the first in a series of heavyweight fights leading up to the crowning of the Bellator heavyweight championship in December. There has been great interest shown in this heavyweight grand prix between fans and media, which could attribute to the last minute change.

Lima vs. MacDonald will now serve as the co-main event on January 20th. Lima, who has been with Bellator since 2011 has been accused of being overlooked by the organization. He has held the welterweight title since November 2016 and perhaps has not gotten the showcases he deserves. This event will take place at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

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