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‘Young GOAT’ A.J. McKee wants to win a title at younger age than Jon Jones did

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Bellator

A.J. McKee is one of those blue-chip fighters with a broad and fuzzy outlook on the cage. He’s just 21 years old, and he’s undefeated. Though none of those opponents has what you might consider a big resume (or even a Wikipedia page), only one has made it past the first round. He lives in Southern California, a playground for the optimistic and the well connected. He is fighting in the co-main event at Bellator 166, right there in the heart of America, in Thackerville, Okla.

Life is pretty good for the prospect. But not as good as he wants it to get as he heads into his fight with Ray Wood on Friday night.

"Everyone is talking about how I’m a prospect," he told MMA Fighting. "I don’t feel I’m a prospect. I feel I’m the young GOAT. I’m going to be the greatest of all time. And so far, my record’s flawless, so I’m looking to keep it that way — and keep it impressive. Not with decisions. I want to finish people. That’s what people want to see.

"They want to see knockouts. They want to see submissions, and crazy explosive punching power. I’m just trying to give the people what they want, and at the same time giving myself what I want."

McKee is coming off of a second-round victory over the late replacement Cody Walker, whom he got by rear-naked choke at Bellator 160 in August. He was supposed to have faced Henry Corrales, who had normal body type for the class. Walker was the exact opposite, a very tall fighter for featherweight with a gaudy wingspan.

"He was a monkey wrench, standing 6-foot-2 and with a 70-inch reach," McKee says. "I was planning on being on the outside and then suddenly had to get inside for KO."

Still, it didn’t stop McKee from finding his way to the club the night before his bout with Walker, to see rapper Wiz Khalifa into the wee hours of the night. At 21, priorities will jostle for position. The opponents come in an assortment of sizes and with various techniques, but his trusts his laden hands to get the job done. He trusts the scaffolding that his father — former fighter Antonio McKee — has given him. He trusts his team at the Body Shop in Long Beach, which includes the likes of Joey Davis and Kevin Ferguson Jr.

"We really could have a reality show," he says. "We fight with each other, then we hug each other. I feel like our gym is kind of the underdogs and the misfits. Everyone rolls into our gym as underdogs and misfits, and we’ve all got our own whacky mindsets.

"But I’m going to make sure I’m the one that we get the recognition that we deserve. We got ‘Baby Slice,’ he’s probably pound-for-pound one of the hardest hitters in the game right now. Then you got Joey, who is one of the greatest wrestlers that history has seen, and nobody knows this kid. He hasn’t lost a wrestling match since junior year of high school."

McKee was supposed to face veteran Emmanuel Sanchez on Friday night, the Roufusport veteran who has all the experience McKee wants. Yet an injury to Sanchez has shuffled the deck yet again and made way for Wood (7-2), who was originally supposed to fight Treston Thomison in Thackerville. Wood is coming off of a first-round loss to Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 154 in May.

To the young McKee, it doesn’t matter. He considers the cage his "playpen," and if it lands in Oklahoma with a stranger from Maine in it, so it goes. Sanchez, Wood…Walker, Corrales. He’s more concerned with A.J. McKee. And he says he’s got a plan for 2017.

"I would like my title shot to be lined up for maybe February or March," he says. "I’m 21, and I want to have the belt before I turn 22 to be the youngest champ ever. Jon Jones did it at 23, and I’m looking to put a two-year gap on that.

"Then take over that second belt, at 155, because this weight cut isn’t always going to be easy. It’s harder and harder as I’m getting older."

If not current champion Daniel Straus, at least McKee would like to fight just enough to keep his name on everybody’s mind. Which is to say, he wants to fight as frequently as possible.

"If I’m not getting hit, throw me in there every other month," he says. "My fights are exciting enough, the people love it. If I’m trying to build that name and get my name out there, fighting every three months [is hard].

"I feel the first month everybody’s like, ‘cool that’s A.J. McKee, he’s a beast,’ and the second month it kind of dies off, and by the third month nobody’s talking about you anymore. I feel every two months is the right timing. Do a month of letting the hype die down of the last fight and then the next month of hyping up the next fight."