A lot of folks are hoping that Bellator MMA don’t wait too much longer to pull the trigger on an intriguing match-up between the promotion’s two most high-profile undefeated prospects, featherweights James Gallagher and AJ McKee.
The 22-year-old McKee’s entire professional career has played out inside the Bellator cage. The American made his pro debut at Bellator 136 in April of 2015 and has reeled off ten straight victories since, looking mostly spectacular along the way. Gallagher, who turned 21 last month, was already 3-0 in the paid ranks when he joined Bellator in 2016. Though he wasn’t scintillating against Mike Cutting in his maiden promotional outing at Bellator 158 in London last July, the Irishman has improved with every performance and he looked sensational in scything through dangerous striker Chinzo Machida earlier this year at Madison Square Garden.
Aside from the fact that the pair are roughly the same age, undefeated, and running riot in the same division, they have also engaged in plenty of trash-talk online and through the media.
All of this has given the appearance that they are on a collision course and developed a hunger for the fight among the Bellator audience.
However, though he claims he is in no way reluctant to fight McKee, Gallagher says that his sights are set on bigger things, even at this early stage in his career.
“I’m above him now. My profile is way above him,” Gallagher said from the centre of a media scrum in Dublin last weekend(via SevereMMA). “I’m focused on the belts.”
“After tonight, he’s not in my words, he’s not in my thoughts. He never is,” he added. “I want the champion. I want the belt.”
After telling the media of his intentions last week, Gallagher took a more direct line on Friday, getting into an expletive-laden exchange with Bellator featherweight champ Patricio Freire and his brother Patricky.
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Congratulations to @luizvrocha for a successful @BellatorMMA debut! @mikekogan we want @strabanimalmma for him next. Not only will Luiz win, he will get a finish. 145, 135, doesn’t matter. @jorgeguimaraes We had to deal with a change of opponent at weigh ins and we didn’t know anything about him. Yet he went in there and won a dominant performance. We have a long way to go still, even so we’re much further ahead than what was shown today which was already very good. Let’s go for the next one! – Parabéns pra Luiz Victor pela estreia com sucesso no Bellator! Queremos James Gallagher em seguida. Não apenas Luiz Victor vai ganhar, ele vai definir a luta! 61, 66kg, não importa o peso. Tivemos que lidar com uma mudança de adversário na pesagem e não sabíamos nada dele. Mesmo assim Luiz Victor foi lá e teve uma performance dominante. Ainda temos um longo caminho pra percorrer, mas ainda assim estamos bem mais distantes do que mostramos hoje o que já foi algo muito bom. Vamos pra próxima! #Bellator188
When Patricky Freire posted a congratulatory message to his teammate Luiz Rocha, who moved to 4-1 with a decision win over Almog Shay at Bellator 188 in Tel-Aviv on Friday, and added that Rocha should be paired off with Gallagher next, ‘The Strabanimal’ responded, “F**k you and your teammate!! I want you!(via MMAFighting)”
“Stop being a pu**y putting your team mates to take your ass whopping you be a man and fight me,” added the SBG star. “That’s my belt you got so f*** you!”
Gallagher may have confused Patricky with Patricio, both of whom are nicknamed ‘Pitbull’. Patricky is actually a lightweight and was quick to let Gallagher know that.
“@strabanimalmma you dont want me, I’m on another level & two weight classes above you, u been hit in the head too hard & dont know Who you are talking to,” wrote the Brazilian. “If u Fight me or any of the Pitbulls in @bellatormma , you wont remember what country you are from. You are like conor’s parrot but Your Mouth is writing checks your lil ass cant cash.”
“@patrickypitbull f*** You! You don’t know who you’re talking to,” responded Gallagher. “I’ll whoop everyone of You’s . You’re a pu**y getting your team mate to take you boys beating. Yeah you’re right about that part there’s just so many of them I struggle to cash them all myself. But I’ll struggle on.”
Patricio then got involved.
“@strabanimalmma I’m seeing you’re really an animal, don’t even know how to differentiate between who is who,” wrote the champ. “Have some manners with your words, this trash that you say won’t scare nobody. Everyone knows @bellatormma protects you, they know the bad things I could do to you.”
“They said so themselves and you announced a drop to 135 after I called out your bluff. Then you moved back to 145 when we said we had @leandrohigomma.
“So now we have a 4-1 guy, 1-0 in Bellator in @luizvrocha who can fight at both weights and whoop your a**. I wonder if they’ll say he’s too much as well.
“You wouldn’t beat any of us. But if you’re happy running your big mouth and fighting lesser competition, do so and one day come try to touch my belt. I’ll send you straight to Tech Duinn.”
Earlier in the year, Gallagher did indeed announce that he planned to descend to bantamweight for Bellator 187 in Dublin. However, he later changed his mind and decided to stay up at 145lbs. A featherweight fight between he and Jeremiah Labiano was subsequently announced for the show, but Gallagher was later forced to pull out of the fight because of a knee injury.
Though he is currently sidelined, Gallagher wasn’t ready to back down from Patricio, so the exchanges continued, with Patricio aided by Patricky, and even a cameo from Rocha.
“@patriciopitbull Hahahaha f*** you too! Lets go you fight me,” wrote Gallagher. “Don’t be putting your team mates in for a hiding. Put yourself forward. You mean my belt you fool.”
“@strabanimalmma I already said I’d fight you in Ireland, you announced you’d run to 135,” responded Patricio. “@bellatormma doesn’t want you to take a beating from me, so I gave them someone else to do it. Fight @luizvrocha, if you manage to get past him, which you won’t, perhaps Bellator would let you take a beating from me.”
“@strabanimalmma yes you will struggle …struggle to make it out of the First round,” added Patricky.
“@strabanimalmma You talk too much, you’re trying to be @thenotoriusmma but just as your skills don’t match your talking doesn’t either,” wrote Rocha. “You’re way over your head on this and have no place fighting @patriciopitbull. You’re just a copy with no traits of originality. I’ll fight you anywhere, specially in Ireland, and I’ll finish you inside two rounds.”
“@patrickypitbull lets go then! Lets do it. Come to Ireland fight me,” responded Gallagher. “Well soon see who’ll struggle.”
Gallagher underwent knee surgery at the end of October and he subsequently told Peter Carroll of MMAFighting that the procedure had been less complex than expected. The young fighter added that he expected to be back in training within six weeks.
Patricio Freire is himself nursing a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from a scheduled title defence against the vastly experienced Daniel Weichel at last night’s show in Tel Aviv.