A.J. McKee already considers himself the best featherweight in the world, but he’s more than ready to prove it against anybody and everybody who wants to challenge him.
The next step in his career ascendancy will take place on Saturday night when the undefeated 26-year-old contender looks to become champion for the first time when he faces featherweight king Patricio Pitbull in the main event at Bellator 263.
A win would move McKee to 18-0 in his career but it would also back up everything he’s been saying about claiming the Bellator title ever since he first debuted in 2015.
As much as it would mean to McKee to become featherweight champion, he actually sees that as just a single step towards the much greater goals he’s setting out to accomplish.
“I feel it’s going to open up the MMA world a little bit,” McKee explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Just to go and show, because of Pitbull beating [Michael] Chandler and then Chandler going over to UFC at 155 pounds and doing what he’s doing, I honestly feel as well Patricio Pitbull’s hands down one of the best 145’ers in the world. But like I said, I am the best in the world.
“I feel like that’s just going to put that stamp on. OK, this kid really is the future of the sport. He is potentially and going to accomplish big things in his career like he said. Going undefeated his entire career. Being the Floyd Mayweather of MMA. Being well spoken, being able to be myself but in a sport that hasn’t really developed like the boxing world has yet. I’m just looking forward to being the first one to do it and just be the people’s champ.”
Because Pitbull is such an established champion with Bellator, McKee understands that vanquishing him this weekend is paramount to the next stage of his career. Of course one win won’t be enough because McKee fully intends to win the featherweight title and then call for an immediate rematch with the Brazilian in order to snatch away the lightweight championship he’s also holding.
Once he’s got a belt decorating each shoulder then McKee can start to contemplate what truly comes next including potential challenges in other organizations.
“There’s definitely fighters in other organizations that I want to get a hold of,” McKee said. “I don’t know. We’ll see how things play out and where things lead to but at the moment Patricio Pitbull’s it. Brian Ortega took me out with a triangle when I was like 19 so I definitely have to get that back one day.
“Other than that, [Max] Holloway was always my dream fight. I feel like he has some of the most elite striking in mixed martial arts as well so I’d love to test my skills with his skills and see how things play out.”
While he’s been proud to spend his entire career in Bellator, McKee rarely goes through a single interview without the subject of the UFC coming up and he certainly understands the attraction.
The UFC is the biggest MMA promotion in the world and more often times than not, the champions promoted there are considered the best in the world. As previously stated, McKee welcomes the chance to face any of the top fighters from the UFC whether that’s reigning featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, current No. 1 contender Brian Ortega or former title holder Max Holloway.
McKee is more than confident that he could dispatch each and every one of them but he’s never going to take less than what he’s worth just to put the three letters UFC next to his name.
“At the end of the day, this is a business and this is how I take care of my family, this is how my father takes care of his family,” McKee said. “The check’s gotta be right. That’s mandatory. If the check’s not right, don’t even talk to me.
“As far as the UFC, I don’t like their new belts. If that was even an option, I want the old belt. That new belt, I don’t like it. I don’t know. Money’s always key. It rules the world. If they’re not paying, it’s not a move. I feel like that’s people wanting the hype and enjoying the hype trains. That’s been a good part of the way the UFC has marketed their brand. They’ve done a great job marketing the UFC. People would call mixed martial arts UFC before they even knew what MMA was. That comes from the marketing and the branding that they’ve done.”
With a Bellator main event on the horizon, and possibly a second title fight coming with a win on Saturday, McKee isn’t really thinking about the UFC at all right now but he knows those conversations might happen in the future.
If there’s interest, McKee will be more than happy to listen but he’s also never going to undervalue himself when it comes to his paycheck.
“They’ve got the money,” McKee said with a laugh when addressing the UFC. “It’s not like they ain’t got the money. Write the checks. Uncle Dana [White] got that fat pocket. We can sit down and talk. For me at the end of the day, I’m looking to break the record scale. I’m trying to do things Floyd did. $100 million check. I know pay-per-views and so forth, they’re bringing in big money so once I get an established name and an established following, the sky is the limit.
“Regardless of the following. Pay me what I’m valued. Pay me what my skill set is. This is a sport. [Odell Beckham Jr.] gets paid cause he’s the best athlete in the world. Not because he’s marketable. He’s one of the best athletes. Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, they’re paid cause they’re the best. LeBron James, they’re paid because they’re the best. They may not be the [most] well-spoken or the best inside or outside of the court but at the end of the day, they’re the best at what they do. So that’s what they’re compensated for, for their skill set. That’s kind of my thing.”
Money aside, McKee is always up for a challenge and while he understands it will probably never happen, he’d love to see the day when promotions put up or shut up when it comes time to prove who truly is the best in the world.
“Maybe we need to do something like boxing, maybe we should do something like an old PRIDE days,” McKee suggested. “We’ll take the best of the best and we’ll do a tournament in one night with eight fighters. Eight fighters, two from every organization — ONE FC, PFL, UFC, Bellator — and we’ll put together a stacked ass roster and I guarantee I’m going to come out on top in that thing.”