Unbeaten Bellator prospect AJ McKee spoke exclusively to us here at Pundit Arena as he prepares to face Daniel Crawford at Bellator 212 tonight.
Crossing the line from prospect to genuine contender is an inevitability for fighters who display the type of raw talent McKee does. But with his pro-record standing at 12-0, despite him being just 23-years-old, it’s getting progressively harder to pin that label on him.
Wins by an array of different methods make up his unbeaten resumé and with a showdown against Daniel Crawford on the Bellator 212 main-card tonight, fans will be expecting to see the best AJ McKee yet.
Irish and Europeans may know AJ best from his short-notice Bellator Dublin headliner against Brian ‘The Pikeman’ Moore last year – a fight that saw McKee face quite a bit of adversity from the get-go.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena MMA, the rising featherweight force detailed his experiences in the Irish capital and the eventual fight that came from it.
“It was a great fight for me. It was more a spiritual fight. I didn’t really train for that fight and my father didn’t want me to take that fight. I had a lot going on in life at the time that no-one knows about but it was just a great fight, a learning experience, and a real eye-opener.
“Especially fighting Brian Moore. I knew he was going to come and he was going to stay in my face and that I was going to have to fight. Even when I was broke – and that was after the first round, I didn’t have anything left.
“It was fighting through it and digging deep so it was fun I loved it. I loved being in Ireland – having the fans screaming ‘olé olé’ – even though it was against me. It was great to be in that arena performing. It was a great fight and a great experience.”
This time around, it’s the former BAMMA champion Daniel Crawford who will share the cage with McKee – a name that is no doubt familiar to those close to the European circuit.
Coming through with a rather specific prediction for tonight’s fight, AJ seemed unperturbed by the ‘prospect’ label that people still insist on branding him with.
“You guys know, with him being a BAMMA champ, what he’s all about. You know Crawford, you know what Brian Moore is about. You guys are the Fighting Irish.
“I’m going to go out there and put on the show. I’m looking at a first-round submission or second-round knockout.”
“I really don’t care. I’m 23. I’m young. If that’s what you guys mean by ‘prospect’ then you guys are correct, I am a prospect. My skills you guys cannot diminish or say ‘he hasn’t fought anyone’.
“I’m fighting well-known people. Go look at the people that I’ve fought, and then look at the people I’ve fought have fought.
“Just cause I’m making it easy doesn’t mean I’m not fighting well-known people. At the end of the day, I’m just going to keep doing what I do best and that’s entertaining my true fans.”
At 12-0, it’s easy to forget just how young AJ is in years.
We’ve seen improvements all across the board since he first stormed onto the scene a few years ago and according to him, 2019 is the year he finally gets his hands on Bellator gold.
“I’m 23. I could take a year before I fight for the belt and still be a young champion and that’s the thing. It’s business, you know. That’s a conversation for my management and Bellator to have – for me, I’m just going to concentrate on kicking ass, taking names, entertaining my fans and getting new fans.
“For 2019 I’m just really pumped to take on everything. 145lbs, 155lbs, I’m really pumped to continue to break records. I’m 12-0 with nine finishes, seven of them in the first-round, one thirty seconds into the second-round, one in the third. I’m all about stats.
“Next year. I want this 145lb belt. By the time I’ll be 24, I’ll be a 145lb champion by April.”
Of course, coming from an Irish publication, I naturally asked the James Gallagher question of the 23-year-old – given their rather public beef in the past.
Gallagher was TKO’d the first-round last time around against Ricky Bandejas and while a win at Bellator Dublin next February would certainly set him right back on track, McKee doesn’t seem to fussed if they end up fighting or not.
“Either or, it doesn’t matter. Send me a contract I’ll sign it. I’m ‘The Mercenary’, I sign contracts. You put a name on it, put a date on it, and I’m signing it. I’ve never pulled out, I’ve never backed down and that’s me.
“You bark, I bite.
“I want to get back there, I’m hungry right now. Keep lining them up, I’ll keep knocking them out. I think Bellator are allowing me to fight, allowing me to do what I need to do. Even Ireland, take me back to Ireland, I loved Ireland, it was an amazing place.
“At the end of the day, I’m a McKee. You guys can’t knock me, I know where I come from and my last name is Irish.”
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena