A.J. McKee has been calling himself the best featherweight in the world for quite some time. But now, he’s got the credentials to back up those claims.
At Bellator 263, the undefeated Bellator contender graduated to champion after demolishing Patricio Freire Pitbull by submission in the first round. It was the culmination of a promise made by McKee after he debuted in the sport while touting that he would eventually prove he was the elite of the elite at 145 pounds.
Now with Bellator gold around his waist, McKee is happy to be proven right.
“I felt that way since the beginning of my career,” McKee told MMA Fighting about his status as the best featherweight in the sport. “At this point, this is me showing everybody else. That’s the part I’m really enjoying, now allowing everybody else to see it. Now people are beginning to believe it. It’s not just me saying it. Other people are saying it now. Other people are seeing it.
“That’s honestly the greatest piece, getting the recognition, getting the respect from everyone else and just being able to be a people’s champ now. People are loving it. The more they love it, the more I love it.”
Another person who loved McKee’s performance was social influencer turned boxing superstar Jake Paul, who will headline a Showtime pay-per-view against ex-UFC champ Tyron Woodley on Aug. 29.
After watching McKee tear through Pitbull in less than two minutes, Paul dropped a message on Twitter that stated “AJ McKee would kill 2015 [Conor] McGregor,” — an obvious reference to McGregor pulling off a similar victory over Jose Aldo to become the undisputed UFC featherweight champion.
AJ McKee would kill 2015 McGregor— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) August 1, 2021
Never one to shy away from a potential challenge, McKee couldn’t help but agree with Paul.
“I enjoyed it,” McKee said. “I think that’s a smart man, and he knows what’s up. He probably sees the mindset. He sees the look in my eyes. At the end of the day, Conor can get it then, he can get it now. Like I said before he became champ-champ, I said I was going to do it.
“All the accolades he’s achieved in his life, hats off to him, but he’s lost. It’s a different mindset. You give him a way out and he’ll take it. Versus myself, if you give me a way out, I’m not going to take it — you’re going to have to earn it.”
McKee expects similar results when asked about possible fights against the best featherweights currently competing in the UFC, which includes Alexander Volkanovski.
Because they compete in different promotions, it’s nothing more than fantasy matchmaking for now. But McKee has every confidence in himself that he’d dispatch the current UFC champion just like he did Pitbull at Bellator 263.
“I’ll send him back to rugby,” McKee joked when speaking about Volkanovski. “I come home victorious. It’s that kill or be killed mindset. At the end of the day, a lot of respect to Volkanovski being a world champion but he came from another sport. For you to be in another sport and come over to this sport and be dominant, that shows he has the mindset to do it but I don’t have all the crafts. Actually, I know he doesn’t have all the crafts to do it. Whether it’s on the feet, whether it’s on the ground, wherever the fight may go, adapting in the situation, I feel like there’s a lot to expose in his career, in his skill set.
“Max Holloway just being an elite striker, he’s neck and neck with Max. Then obviously the ground game of Brian Ortega, I’d like to see how he does with that if Ortega can get him to the ground. Rugby players know their center of ground so it might be a little struggle to get him down to the ground but at the end of the day, I would love to fight any of those dudes. Anywhere, any place, any time.”
There’s little doubt that McKee’s name is going to come up a lot now that he’s the reigning Bellator champion, which means fighters from the UFC will probably be forced to address that subject as well.
Whether it’s the UFC, Bellator or any other promotion, McKee is more than happy to accept the challenge and prove he’s a step ahead of everybody else.
“At the end of the day it’s to show all the fans that the fighters make the organizations, the organizations don’t make the fighters,” McKee said. “In this sense, I am the best 145-pounder in the world and that’s the point I would like to make regardless.”