The reigning Bellator featherweight champion is set to rematch Patricio Freire on Friday in the main event of Bellator 277. McKee handily defeated the younger “Pitbull” brother last July with a neck crank in less than two minutes to capture the 145-pound title.
At the time, Patricio was a two-division champion in Bellator, holding both the featherweight and lightweight belts. In the aftermath of his loss to McKee, Patricio ultimately opted to vacate his lightweight strap and allow his older brother, Patricky Freire, to step into the picture and challenge for the 155-pound title against Peter Queally at Bellator 270 this past November, a fight Patricky won via second-round knockout.
That means McKee’s quest to become a two-division Bellator champion remains a family affair against the two “Pitbull” brothers.
At Monday’s kickoff press conference ahead of Bellator 277, McKee said he agreed to rematch Patricio for the featherweight belt before heading up to 155 pounds out of respect for what Patricio had accomplished in the company, alluding to the fact that the former two-division champion is the most decorated fighter in Bellator history. He then addressed whether the brash approach he took into his first fight with Patricio would change now that he’s the hunted rather than the hunter — and that set off a chain reaction.
“I’m always respectful, but when you cross that line, that’s the line — things got to get dealt with,” McKee said. “It’s no disrespect, nothing but respect. Obviously things are a little bit different now. I’m the champ so I’d like to carry myself different. But the first fight was like picking at the brother, you know what I mean? And this fight, I’m just looking forward to going out there and really putting on a show, man. I’m looking forward to being the champ-champ, so his brother’s got the belt — a ‘Pitbull’ is a ‘Pitbull’ to me.”
McKee’s answer prompted an immediate off-stage retort from Patricky, who vowed to the American that he’d be waiting for him after Bellator 277.
“I know you are,” McKee responded. “To be a champion, you must beat a champion though. Remember that. ... I beat once. I’ll beat your brother and you again.”
To that, Patricky remarked that McKee can only dream.
“What do you mean dream? It’s going to happen, bro,” McKee shot back. “It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Inevitable. Faster, stronger, bigger. That’s why [Patricio] gave you the belt. That’s why he gave you the belt, let’s be realistic. Let’s be realistic, he doesn’t want to see me faster, stronger, bigger [at 155 pounds]. I’m going to destroy the ‘Pitbull’ legacy. It will end with A.J. ‘Mercenary’ McKee.”
At that point, Patricio waded back into the fray to remind McKee of Michael Chandler, who made similar threats in the past only to get knocked out by Patricio in 61 seconds.
“The last one who said that, I beat him in one minute,” Patricio said.
“Dude, you didn’t make it out of two minutes [in our first fight],” McKee replied. “You didn’t make it out of two minutes. Make it to the second round [on Friday]. I’ll let you make it to the second round this time.”
“Be ready,” Patricio responded. “That’s it.”
Patricky subsequently tweeted out video of the exchange, adding, “Patricio will win back the title, but if AJ wants to move up after and take a beating from me too he’s welcome.”
Video of that clip can be seen below.
Patricio will win back the title, but if AJ wants to move up after and take a beating from me too he's welcome. https://t.co/lP9mRdeXvo— Patricky Freire (@PatrickyPitbull) April 11, 2022
If Monday’s press conference is any indication, McKee is confident in his chances.
The undefeated 27-year-old vowed to finish Patricio within the first two rounds at Bellator 277 before he moves up to 155 pounds to hunt down his second “Pitbull” brother.
“I walked the dog already, so why not twice?” McKee said. “I know they enjoy a walk.”
Full video of the press conference can be seen below.