At the Bellator 263 post-fight press conference, Coker was asked how the promotion plans to handle it’s homegrown star, who triumphed over Patricio Freire via first-round technical submission to claim the featherweight title. The win improved McKee’s record to a flawless 18-0, with all of those victories occurring under the Bellator banner.
McKee, 26, has long been positioned to be the face of Bellator, and now that he has a world championship to back that up, Coker believes it could be time to take his talents to even bigger platforms.
“There is a plan in place, for sure,” Coker said. “Next year we are looking to do some specials with CBS and their parent network, but right now I just want to enjoy this moment and A.J. enjoy this moment, but him fighting on big CBS I’m sure CBS would love it. I’m sure A.J. would love it. I’m sure it would be good for everybody. So it’s possible, and I’m sure that Showtime would love to have him fight on Showtime and who knows, maybe he can become not just a linear star but a cable star and he can just take it from there.
“Pay-per-view is a possibility. He told me he wants to box, so we’ll see. Maybe he can fight one of the Paul brothers one day.”
Bellator 263’s main event also served as the final of a Featherweight World Grand Prix that began in 2019 with a field of 16 fighters. Over the course of the tournament, McKee and Pitbull proved they were a cut above their peers and now McKee has the hardware to prove it. He also became the first fighter to score a true finish of Pitbull (the lone TKO loss on Pitbull’s record heading into this fight was due to a leg injury he suffered in a 2016 bout against Benson Henderson) when he choked him unconscious with a guillotine submission.
Coker sees McKee’s win over the decorated Pitbull as just the beginning of what’s to come for the new featherweight champion.
“Anything can happen, Pitbull is dangerous, he’s got a lot of power, he’s always—as far as I’m concerned when I watch his performances in the past, he’s never out of a fight,” Coker said. “This kid has dynamite in both hands and a great submission game so when I think about A.J. and his game, he’s gonna be a tough kid to beat in the future.
“This is the future of MMA, a kid that can do it all like this. He’s been doing this since he was three or four years old. He grew up in the gym. This is nothing new for him, so he’s special and his dad [former pro fighter Antonio McKee] told me when he came to my office five or six years ago, ‘This is the kid. He’s special. I’m telling you right now.’ And he was right, the dad knew it. It’s just part of his destiny.”
When asked flatly if he felt comfortable calling McKee the best featherweight in all of MMA, Coker didn’t shy away from answering in the affirmative and expressing his eagerness to see that claim tested against the elite from any other promotion.
“Yeah,” Coker said. “Listen, I would love to see him fight against other people as well as you guys would also. It’s not gonna happen because it’s not the UFC’s business model to do it, but you tell me this kid couldn’t go in there and fight anybody right now. Everybody knows he could do it. If they want to get it on, then we’d do it in a second.”