INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Los Angeles, and the game of blended martial arts, has a brand new star athlete.
The undefeated A.J. McKee submitted Patricio “Pitbull” Freire by way of guillotine choke at simply 1 minute, 57 seconds of the primary spherical to win the Bellator featherweight title Saturday evening in the primary occasion of Bellator 263 in entrance of a raucous, partisan crowd on the LA Discussion board.
McKee additionally gained the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix and its $1 million prize with the victory.
The practically sold-out crowd gave McKee, a local of Lengthy Seaside, California, an enormous pop when he walked out, then chanted “A.J.!” earlier than the bout began. When McKee completed the bout, the Discussion board exploded, and other people began to hurry the cage earlier than being stopped by safety. This was by far the most important victory of McKee’s profession in one of many greatest fights in promotion historical past — a type of passing-of-the-torch second.
“I bought extra tickets than I obtained paid,” McKee mentioned within the postfight information convention. “I knew this entire area was there for me. It is simply phenomenal to have that a lot assist. … It was simply surreal, man, to have all these individuals behind there. To do it not only for you, your self and your loved ones, however for town.”
The stoppage was a wild one. McKee rocked “Pitbull” with a left head kick after which stopped as if he gained. However referee Mike Beltran informed him to struggle on. So McKee grabbed a susceptible Freire in a guillotine choke with each of them standing and squeezed till “Pitbull” appeared to go unconscious. At that time, Beltran stepped in and stopped it.
Earlier than Saturday evening, “Pitbull” had been completed simply as soon as earlier than in his MMA profession, and it was because of a leg damage in 2016 in opposition to Benson Henderson.
“It is spectacular,” Bellator president Scott Coker mentioned. “The child is dynamite. … It was most likely one of many best finishes within the historical past of this firm.”
Coming in, ESPN had “Pitbull” ranked No. 3 on this planet at featherweight. Freire is essentially the most achieved fighter in Bellator historical past, holding a plethora of the promotion’s most important information. He’s additionally the Bellator light-weight champion and holds a first-round TKO win over UFC light-weight contender Michael Chandler.
“I’m the very best 145-pounder on this planet, whether or not it is UFC, ONE FC, PFL,” McKee mentioned. “Whoever it’s.”
McKee is Bellator’s red-hot younger star, somebody who may very well be one of many greatest attracts in MMA sooner or later. McKee mentioned he needs to struggle “Pitbull” once more instantly for Freire’s light-weight title.
“That is the following step,” McKee mentioned.
There was dangerous blood right here, too. Freire and McKee practically obtained right into a bodily altercation on the information convention Thursday, with “Pitbull” having to be escorted off stage. Freire was offended that McKee mentioned he would beat him in entrance of his spouse and youngsters, which got here after Freire mentioned he would beat McKee in entrance of his father and coach.
McKee (18-0) has completed 4 straight fights. “The Mercenary” owns essentially the most consecutive victories in Bellator historical past (18), essentially the most submission wins in Bellator featherweight historical past (six) and essentially the most stoppages within the Bellator 145-pound division ever (13). McKee, 26, is coached by his father, Antonio, who himself was a longtime MMA fighter.
“I’d like to see him struggle in opposition to different individuals [outside Bellator], as properly,” Coker mentioned. “As you guys would additionally. It isn’t going to occur as a result of it is not the UFC’s enterprise mannequin. You are telling me this child could not go in there and struggle anyone proper now? Everyone knows he might do it.”
Freire (32-5) was on a seven-fight profitable streak coming in and had gained 15 of 17 general. The Brazil native has essentially the most wins (20) and most title struggle wins (10) in Bellator historical past, plus he’s tied for essentially the most finishes with Chandler (13). Freire, 34, is a two-time Bellator featherweight champion with seven profitable title defenses within the division.
And now McKee needs to go to 155 to problem for the opposite constructed “Pitbull” has.
“It is by no means sufficient,” McKee mentioned. “Till I am making these Floyd [Mayweather] checks — 100 mil — it is by no means sufficient. After which it is nonetheless by no means sufficient.”