As far as settings go — it doesn’t get much better for A.J. ‘The Mercenary’ McKee. Headlining Bellator 263 as part of the promotion’s featherweight World Grand Prix — Long Beach native, McKee stopped reigning two-weight champion, the punishing Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire within two minutes of the opening round in their main event — scoring a standing guillotine stoppage.
Making the walk first, McKee, flanked to the cage by his father, Antonio McKee — brought with him a wad of dollar bills which he dully threw to the crowd during his walkout — swarmed by the sounds of Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre — McKee entered the bout to a massive hometown ovation.
With major spoils awaiting, McKee took control of the cage early, firing off a front leg oblique kick which lightweight and featherweight champion, Pitbull evaded.
The pair circled and evaded during what must be said was a quite tentative minute, before McKee trapped the Goiana champion with his back to the fence, before springing with a well-disguised right high-kick, drawing a notable wobble from the gold holder.
Immediately closing the distance and unleashing several hooks, an overzealous McKee dropped Pitbull and began to almost wheel away in celebration, however, the job had not been done.
Returning to close quarters, McKee, almost poetically, latched onto the neck of Pitbull and secured a standing guillotine choke, which the Brazilian has used on six separate occasions throughout his own gold-laden career to secure winning spoils.
Forcing the intervention from referee, Mike Beltran, McKee this time was fortuitous with the finish and scaled the cage fence, welcomed by a chorus of cheers from The Forum in Inglewood, California.
It’s the culmination of a masterful featherweight World Grand Prix from McKee — who managed to lock up a staggering four opening round stoppages on route to eventual gold, deuce, as well as that lofty $1 million bonus check.
Speaking with former referee and Bellator colour commentator, ‘Big’ John McCarthy following his submission victory, a composed McKee explained how his journey has only begun. And outlined plans to maintain possession of the featherweight championship for the remainder of his time on this earth.
Before tonight’s event, the majority of watchful eyes in the mixed martial arts community were attracted to Bellator 263 rather than the topsy-turvy UFC Vegas 33 card. And with good reason — Pitbull vs. McKee promised one of the greatest fights of the year on paper, as well as arguably the most important and most high-profile in the history of the Scott Coker-led promotion. To say tonight dully delivered on pre-fight promises would be quite the understatement.