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All A.J. McKee wants for his father (Antonio) is a million-dollar house

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Bellator

Back before Ronda Rousey became a megastar in the fight medley, there was the story of her mom waking her up via armbars (and other submission holds) when she was a kid. With a judoka for a mother, childhood was different. Rousey, as was demonstrated later, ultimately endured and benefitted from the treatment.

With A.J. McKee — the son of MMA veteran Antonio McKee — there’s really no need for alarm clocks, either. The elder McKee honed his skills on his son’s sleeping frame for many years, innovative techniques rolled out in efforts to get A.J. to rise and shine. Fending off attacks in a drowsy state is a form of prepping for the cage, after all. If Dad knew anything, it was that consciousness and unconsciousness are forever crossing into each other in the fight game.

In other words, the young A.J. McKee was forced to empathize with Rousey’s rude awakenings.

"I know all about that," McKee recently told MMA Fighting. "Choke, punch, armbar, arm behind my neck. It was like, ‘no Dad, not this morning, I’m not in a playing mood.’ And he’s like, ‘what are you going to do? You gonna get mad? You gonna get mad?’

"That’s him having fun and him preparing me. Say I get rocked one day and I go down and I wake up in the middle of a fight and I’m in a rear-naked choke…well it’s like, dude, you’re getting choked! Start defending it. He’s always preparing me for something and that’s what I love about him. He’s always one or two steps ahead of everybody."

A.J. McKee is now 20 years old and fighting in Bellator. He still lives with his old man out in Long Beach, and there’s plenty of pre-breakfast roughhousing going on to this day. The 45-year old Antonio is also his coach at Body Shop Fitness, a fast-rising gym that houses the likes of Bubba Jenkins and Emanuel Newton. The latter calls the LBC collective a "brotherin." A.J. is one of the star pupils making his way up the rungs. He won his first two professional fights — both in Bellator — and is now getting set to face another fresh face in John Donaldson on Dec. 4 at Bellator 147.

But this father and son story isn’t as easy as all that. Antonio, who fought nearly 40 times in a locked cage dating back to 1999, had to relent to the idea that his son was following in his footsteps.

"He actually hated the idea of me fighting," A.J. says. "He was like, man, you don’t know what this game is about and it’s definitely not set up for you. But I’m like, man, it’s all I’ve ever seen since I was four or five years old. I’ve watched Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Rampage, I’ve seen all these guys come into my Dad’s gym and train with him so how are you going to tell me you don’t want me to fight? You guys are training with me being eight years old I’m standing right next to you guys hitting at the bag, not knowing what I’m doing but doing it because I have nothing better to do.

"So, it’s in blood. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so now I’m doing it."

The featherweight A.J. went the amateur route, winning seven of his eight unofficial fights. Since turning pro he has scored a couple of first-round finishes, his latest against James Barnes at Bellator 141 in August. Even with a quick knockout, McKee wasn’t overly satisfied with his outing. In part because his father’s intuition wasn’t entirely jibing with his own.

"I felt like I went into that fight a little too calm and collected," he says. "I was out there just relaxed, doing my thing but I wasn’t really fighting. I felt like I didn’t throw any punches until that combination I knocked him out with. My Dad was in my corner and he said, ‘what do you see?’ I was like, ‘man, I want to elbow this dude.’ Next thing I know I felt like [Barnes] felt the elbow coming so I threw a knee, slipped and then a cross and a hook. That’s something me and my Dad have worked on. A jab, a jab, a cross and a hook. The whole combination."

A.J. says father knows best.

"See, it’s like life is a chess game, and he’s just always two steps ahead, always putting me in the right position," he says. "And I feel that’s just him already being there and having gone through all these things already and him knowing what to do and what not to do. I mean, we definitely have times where we butt heads but that’s just me being young and stubborn. You know how it goes. Everyone’s butted heads with their dads once or twice. So I’ve just got to humble myself and keep working and take what he’s saying under consideration."

Humble is a word with a glass ceiling. You can be humble while packing away millions of dollars and rolling around in style. And that’s not a bad pursuit, to listen to A.J., who isn’t old enough to drink but has a vision. What he wants to do is make enough money that he and his father won’t have to live together anymore. In fact, he wants to put Antonio in a "million dollar house," to pay him back for all bringing him up the way he did.

For making him fight in the mornings when all he wanted to do is sleep.

"I’ve been telling my Dad since I was eight years old that I want to be the Mayweather of MMA," he says. "I want to be the greatest of all time. I lost one match amateur, and I lost one match in college wrestling at Cerritos College. I don’t want to lose.

"He’s like, well, if you want to do this, you’re going to have to adjust a couple of things in your lifestyle and quit messing around and take it 100 percent serious. So it’s starting to click with me in the past three months. I’ve definitely changed a lot of things and humbled myself in a lot of ways, from costing my dad $80,000 cars and another $40,000 car to one thing after another. It’s humbling. Me sleeping on the floor everyday. It’s humbling. I mean, he told me do you really want to live like this?"

The Humble (Pending) Mayweather of MMA — who carries the nickname of "Mercenary" for his love of guns and cars — just wants to take care of his old man, one prizefighter taking care of another.

"I feel like I work my ass off," he says. "My Dad’s worked his ass off his whole life. He definitely deserves a million-dollar house, a six to seven bedroom house. I feel like I’m the one who’s going to give it to him. I just got to work and cut the playing out right now. Work now. Play later."