By: Michael StetsA.J. McKee
is also known as "The Mercenary." And the origin of his nickname came one day after his father, retired fighter Antonio Mckee, posed the question: what would he be if he wasn't competing inside of a cage for a living?
"I thought I would be in the Marines being a contract killer or something," said McKee, laughing. "He was like, 'The Mercenary' perfect.' I was like, 'yeah, killing the game and taking names.' That is the name of the game. 'The Mercenary' is here to take over. Scott Coker signed me to do two things: take names and kick ass. Now it's all about taking those names and entertaining the people."
The undefeated phenom out of Long Beach, Calif. is one of the most talented up-and-coming prospects in the Bellator MMA featherweight division and has quickly risen up the ranks, winning all five of his professional fights (all with Bellator).
A car enthusiast, McKee currently has a 1988 Honda CRX with a V18 engine that he is planning on stripping down "straight to the bone," he says. Much like what he's done to his first five opponents, tallying three knockouts and two submission victories, while ending four of the five bouts in the opening round.
McKee is as confident as they come. His "mindset" as well as his "ferocity," he says, are what sets him apart from his adversaries. And you best believe he already has his sights set on the 145-pound strap, which is currently held by Daniel Straus
. In fact, one of his goals is to win a title before the age of 23, because that is when Jon Jones won the UFC light heavyweight title.
In his estimation, McKee feels he needs a win over an opponent in the upper echelon of the division to propel him into title contention. Emmanuel Sanchez
would've been the perfect opponent for him at Bellator 166
, which takes place at Winstar Casion in Thackerville, Okla. later tonight, but after Sanchez pulled out due to injury, McKee will now face Ray Wood.
New opponent. Short notice. Doesn't matter to McKee.
"I'm not really fazed by it, man, it's starting to become a usual thing," said McKee, who has had this happen to him before. I"m starting to think these guys are scared or something."
In his eyes, the other featherweights on the roster simply don't want none
"If it was the other way around, I wouldn't want to fight anyone, who is 5-0 and finishing everybody in the first round, and there is not real footage on what he is doing and every fight will be completely different," he explained. "It's another fight, you know? For me, I want to get a big name under me. I felt like Emmanuel Sanchez was that big name. So hopefully I go out here and do some work and then I can get that matchup next because he is No.5 in the weight class."
McKee, 21, is obviously frustrated about Sanchez dropping out since he is a highly-touted fighter within the division and would get him one step closer to title contention. Not to mention McKee also had Henry Corrales
pull out of a scheduled bout prior to Bellator 160
"Everybody has been talking about, who have I fought?" he said, sounding a bit annoyed. "I'm like, 'who do you want me to fight?' Now it's at that point where … First it was Henry Corrales, who pulled out a week before a fight. Now it's Emanuel Sanchez, who pulled out a week before the fight. I don't know. I'm starting to see it as a little hoax. They can run, but they can't hide. Sooner or later they are going to have to fight me."
McKee trains under his father Antonio, who fought from 1999-2014 and retired with a record of 29-6-2, after competing in MFC, WSOF, UFC and several other promotions. Their relationship, he says, is one that is very, very special.
"That is my one and only coach," he said, his pride transparent in his tone of voice. "He is my father, my coach, my mentor, my best friend. I can literally go talk to my dad about anything and everything."
With having his father also be his coach, McKee says there is a "different respect level" as opposed to just having a coach.
"Some times a lot of guys, when they get on that role--7-0, 8-0, all knockouts--they start to believe they are better than their coach and they start disagreeing with their coach and then they end up suffering a loss and they get stuck. With him it's just different.
"He will tell me one thing, sometimes we butt heads and disagree, but at the end of the day that's my father, he's not going to send me down a path that he's not going to go down himself. I have to humble myself being that young 21-year-old … Just humble myself and listen to what he is going to tell me to do. He's not going to send me down a path that he hasn't walked already or he wouldn't walk down himself."
The biggest and best attribute that he's picked up from his father, the former MFC lightweight champion?
"I would say wrestling, man," said McKee, who trains at Body Shop Fitness with fellow Bellator MMA fighters Joey Davis, Emanuel Newton and Kimbo Slice Jr. "I have tremendous wrestling whether people have seen it or not yet. He doesn't get hit either. My dad is 46-years old and I'm still training with him every, single day. There are guys, who are 33 and struggle getting out of bed in the morning now.
"For him, it's different. Everyone talks about, 'he was a boring fighter,' but he wasn't getting paid. So, at the end of the day he's still phenomenal to me. At the end of the day, he still rolls with me on a daily basis. He still spars with me on a daily basis. That's an advantage I definitely have being able to roll with his wisdom and ground work. I've seen him tap out literally anybody and shut down any jiu-jitsu artist you can think of."
McKee revealed as he continues to have success in Bellator MMA, he has a big plan in place for him and his father that would liken them to say, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. from Major League Baseball.
"As soon as I get some leverage to call some shots, we are going to do a father-son fight card," said McKee, his voice rising with excitement at the possibility. "No one in this sport has competed father and son together, so hopefully I go get this knockout or submission and after that come January, I want to fight on that Tito Ortiz card, you know? And throw my dad on that card as well and make some history happen."
His next goal after that? To win the title before his 22nd birthday, which falls on April 7.
Before any of that has a chance of happening, McKee must first take care of Wood at Bellator 166, who he's only had one week to prepare for.
"As far as preparing, I can't really prepare for anything until I'm in there seeing the movements and seeing what he's going to bring," he explained. "He's a fighter that is going to stand in the pocket and bring the fight. Hopefully he brings the fight and I'm going to bring something right back to lay him down. If not, who knows? Just take him down and submit him. That's where his weakness is is on the ground. Who wants a submission when you can get a knockout?"
The confident Bellator featherweight, who said he wants to be the "Floyd Mayweather of MMA" and not have a flaw on his record, plans on having his hand raised to improve to 6-0. He said he will then announce what he has already said several times before when he gets on the mic with Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith afterward.
"I got one thing to say: where's my belt. I've been saying it since my first fight: where's my belt. I want my belt. That's all I care about. I want that belt. Since I was a little kid I've had my eye on two things: a State championship ring [Long Beach Polytechnic High School] from wrestling and a title belt. So, that's my next goal. I have my ring already and now I want that belt."