SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- When A.J. McKee and Joey Davis take turns stepping into the cage at Anaheim's Honda Center at Bellator 160, it won't be the first time they've ever found fights on the same day in the same place.
Sure, it will mark the first time they both get paid to throw down. McKee will put his perfect 4-0 record on the line in the toughest test to date when he faces veteran Henry Corrales on the main card, while Davis makes his pro against Keith Cutrone on the undercard.
But according to McKee, fights have long since had a way of finding the duo, who have been friends since they were little kids growing up in Compton, Calif.
"Since we were kids, we were fighting," said McKee, the son of longtime MMA fighter Antonio McKee. "We'd go to the beach and people would start talking smack to us and we'd be like 'what's up?' They find us man, I swear. I think it's me and him together. It was always the big guys, they always wanted to fight me So I was always like "Let's get it, I'm not scared." Joey's like "if you're fighting I'm fighting," so next thing we know, we're fighting."
"I've known AJ since we've been in diapers," Davis adds. "We've gotten into some crazy situations. I love him to death, it's crazy that we're here to this day, that we're with Bellator. It's a dream come true but we have a lot of things we want to put in that's not done yet. I'm just happy that I get to be in this position that I get to showcase to the world my talents, and he gets to show the world his talents."
Davis is turning his attention to professional MMA after wrapping up a superlative wrestling career at Notre Dame College of Ohio. This spring, Davis became the first wrestler in NCAA Division II history to win four national titles while going undefeated in his collegiate career. Davis' 184-pound title this season capped his 133-0 record.
McKee, for his part, had a stint with Davis at Notre Dame and another at California's Cerritos College before deciding to get into professional fighting ... then turning around and recruiting Davis into the fray as well.
"I'm an unorthodox person, and I like to do a lot of weird creative things," McKee said. "I think wrestling kind of put me in a box. I started fighting, I signed in Bellator and kept working from there. Joey finished his fourth national title, he started talking Olympics and I said ‘bro, Olympics doesn't pay anything, you know what I'm saying?' We've been grinding since we were little kids, let's make money and change our lives."
The senior and junior McKees and Davis all train at Body Shop Fitness in Lakewood, Calif., best known as the home of former Bellator light heavyweight champion Emmanuel Newton. The 21-year-old McKee, who got the head start as a pro, has four first-round finishes to his record at featherweight, all in Bellator. Corrales (12-3), McKee's opponent, has dropped three straight fights, but he's been in there with former featherweight champ Patricio Freire and current titleholder Daniel Straus.
"He's fought our champ and our ex-champ so for me, if I go out there and finish him, that's a good rank on me and I think for me it's a big step to get towards where I want to go," McKee said. "Being on the main card, the more people get to see what AJ McKee is about, the more I get to entertain anybody and see a show. They don't want to see a wrestling match, they don't want to see a jiu-jitsu match, they want to see someone get knocked out, they want to see a war. That's what I do."
For his part, Davis isn't ready to bold pronouncements about where his career is going to go, considering Bellator 160 will mark his pro MMA debut. But he's also well aware that few fighters get to kick their career off the way he will: In a major arena, in his back yard, on a nationally televised event, with his friend from back in the day also competing.
And he doesn't plan on having this be the only such night.
"I take it as a challenge and a blessing," Davis said. "God did this for a reason. It's going to be a special show, not a lot of people have the opportunity to have their debut at home too, it's going to be a dream come true blessing. I have a lot of visualizations of the night, the whole thing, what I'm doing in the fight, what I'm wearing to the building, what I'm doing after the fight. That keeps me excited and relaxed."