When asked when he’d like to fight again, A.J. McKee wasted no time.
“Next month,” the Bellator MMA star said. And why not?
The lifelong Long Beach resident, on the heels of signing a contract extension with the fight promotion and being announced as one of eight participants in the $1 million Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix, has one goal in mind in 2023.
“Another millie! You know what I’m after. I love cashing those million-dollar checks,” McKee said this week on the phone from London. “So I get another belt with everybody’s name on it. And another million dollars in the bank account.”
McKee spent nearly two years toiling through the 16-fighter Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix, stopping all three opponents before winning $1 million and becoming the 145-pound champion with a first-round finish of Patricio Pitbull in the tournament final
In 2022, McKee suffered his first defeat and lost the title back to Pitbull, then moved up to the 155-pound division with decision victories over Spike Carlyle at Bellator 286 in October in his hometown and Rizin champion Robert de Souza in a cross-promotional fight New Year’s Eve in Saitama, Japan.
After returning home from Saitama and starting 2023 hitting the slopes for some snowboarding – “As soon as I got back, I unpacked and packed and went to the mountains for a couple of days” – McKee got back to business by brokering a contract extension with Bellator, the only fight promotion he has ever fought for since his professional debut at Bellator 136 in April 2015.
Not that McKee, who had one fight left on his deal, didn’t feel out other offers from the UFC and PFL. But the 27-year-old says his focus right now is less “chasing the clout” and more providing for his family.
“(Bellator) gave me an opportunity to go negotiate and get offers from other people. So I don’t know. I’m a loyal person, so we worked things out, you know?” McKee said. “I mean, I’m comfortable where I’m at, I don’t really need to go anywhere. And so until obviously maybe the UFC one day, you know, but at the moment I don’t feel the need to go anywhere. Especially with what they’re paying me because Bellator, they pay more than UFC. That’s no hidden secret.”
McKee’s next fight has not been announced, but it will be an opening-round grand prix bout against former champion Patricky Pitbull, Sidney Outlaw or Mansour Barnaoui. The first two bouts in the eight-fighter tournament will take place March 10 in San Jose with champion Usman Nurmagomedov taking on former UFC and WEC champion Benson Henderson in the Bellator 292 main event and Tofiq Musayev facing Alexander Shabliy.
While McKee says he would love to test himself against an MMA legend like Henderson – “I think stylistically that’s probably the most action-packed fight that Bellator could put together” – he understands the appeal for fighting the other Pitbull brother.
“I think just with the history and the chemistry, I think it would be a good fight to put on for the fans,” McKee said. “You know, just with the rivalry, the feud between his brother and I and that being unsettled, to “OK, now the big brother comes into play and you fight the big brother.’ Right?”
McKee concedes that he still has to get accustomed to fighting in a bigger weight class. After fighting at 145 pounds for seven years, the 5-foot-10 McKee says he felt the difference in the cage against stout 155-pounders like Carlyle and de Souza.
But he sees greener pastures in his future with Bellator, starting with the lightweight grand prix.
“Like any king, he travels around the world looking to conquer new land. So luckily, this land is still within our land and everything worked out,” McKee said.