Headlined by champion Patricio Pitbull defending the featherweight crown against fellow tournament finalist AJ McKee Bellator MMA will return to California, at the Forum, on Saturday July 31, for one of the most anticipated match-ups in the history of the fight league. It marks a move from the Mohegan Sun Arena, where Bellator’s events have taken place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, moreover, will play out in front of a crowd of 12,000 spectators.
Scott Coker: “We’re talking about the OG versus the new guard and let’s see what happens”
I got my drive and motivation from my son. Things he would say as a kid – daddy if you die, can I die with you? I didn’t give a shit about living or killing.”
“Then there was a point where it hit me, when he says, ‘dad, whatever you do and wherever you go I want to go with you’. I was ready to clock out. But then I realised I needed to be here.
Bellator president Scott Coker began the proceedings before the two sides let their feelings be known about the contest.
“This is the fight that everybody wanted to see. We had so many great athletes in this division. We went through this lottery system and had this great event where everyone was picked. At the end of the day, my heart was going, ‘boy I really hope it’s McKee and Pitbull’.”
“We signed McKee with no fights and where he is today, he’s grown into an amazing fighter. Six years ago when McKee started on his 17-0 run, Pitbull was our champion back then. We’re talking about the OG versus the new guard and let’s see what happens.”
“This is going to be our relaunch of the Bellator brand. Going into a stadium like this and getting back to some type of normalcy. Our job is to put the best card we can together. The fights you saw on the tape, that’s just the beginning. This fight night will be stacked from top to bottom.”
Eric Albarracin, Pitbull’s coach, spoke first from the teams.
“Patricio Pitbull’s had a bullseye on his back since I think he’s been the champ in 2014. The run is exactly how we planned. We were the matchmakers. We sent Darrion Caldwell to the other side to take out some of those young bucks and then AJ McKee took him out. This is the exact perfect fight for this final. Young up and coming champion and the OG, pound for pound Pitbull. It’s going to be the best fight in Bellator history.”
What did the Pitbull team expect from McKee?
“He’s very young in the game. He’s 17-0 and the fact he’s blasted through these guys in the tournament, he’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what he’s going to come with. I think it’s more that they don’t know how to prepare for Patricio Pitbull. It’s Pitbull who’s the best pound for pound on the planet. It’s Pitbull who is the champ-champ. It’s Pitbull who has the best coaches in the game. Although AJ is very unpredictable and he’s finishing champions in pretty fast fashion, I still think Pitbull changes for every fight. You can prepare for him and you may think you have the answers, but we going to change the questions.”
Antonio McKee, AJ’s father and coach, responded:
“All respect to Pitbull and the whole Pitbull tribe. He does a good job. I can’t take away the accomplishments. That’s not my job. My job is to coach my fighters to be the best in the world. We’ve had 17 fights and had fights where people said we’d get finished and we went through it in less than a minute. What everyone is talking about, I don’t listen to that. So far, our plan’s been working. We’re undefeated.
Pitbull, I give him all the credit in the world, great accolades – can’t take nothing from him. But you’re talking about a younger, stronger, faster, harder-hitter, longer fighter. We know what he does and he does it very well but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“I’ve been telling Scott Coker since day one he’s different. He’s not like most fighters, he’s special. Take a look at him and Scott said he’s got something. You’ve watched him over the years mature. It’s just maturity as a human being. He’s at a point now where he understands it. His ability to read movement is just amazing. That’s something you can’t teach, that’s something that comes over a period of time. I’m more scared for this fight because to me as a coach this is probably one of the easiest fights in the line up.”
Albarracin felt he must respond. He did. With alacrity.
“The easiest? You have no idea. But hey congratulations on that record and that zero you have on your record and what I mean by that is the zero world champions you have.”
“Actually you don’t know the history of me. Rampage Jackson was a champion, Tyron Woodley was a world champion. Let’s not talk about that. I don’t brag about what I do I just want what’s best for my fighters. You on the other hand, you may enjoy that. You may like to be loud, flashy, flamboyant – that’s you, I respect that. But as far as me bragging and getting accolades for what I did as a coach, I’m not in it for that. I’m in it for personal reasons. If you understand where I came from and what I really had to go through, maybe you wouldn’t say that type of stuff. But it’s okay, like you said July 31st all cards are on the table and you can get that exhibition match since you’re a state champion. Don’t matter what you weigh, we’ll do a match for a charity of our choice and I’m going to spank that ass because I’m going to give you five points ahead. Now let’s get back to it.”
Questions then came from the media around the world on the call.
McKee described his incredible journey on how his son has changed his life.
“Well God is good. I grew up, it wasn’t all good and charity. I was dealing with a lot of stuff that Afro-American men grow up deal with – no father and growing up in the streets of LA. It was what it was. I made the right decisions and never got caught for anything of the things I did that could have put me away for the rest of my life. I got my drive and motivation from my son. Things he would say as a kid – daddy if you die, can I die with you? I didn’t give a shit about living or killing.”
“Then there was a point where it hit me, when he says, ‘dad, whatever you do and wherever you go I want to go with you’. I was ready to clock out. But then I realised I needed to be here. He had nothing but me. That gave me the drive and the strength to find a better way out. That was a challenge itself. But you know I made it this far. I did my thing as a wrestler, I was the best in the world. I didn’t have the mindset. I had to learn how to be a human being. I was an ugly, grimy, disrespectful guy. Once I learned that things started to shift a little different. I did things to keep him in private school. I did it to pay his school tuition which was $500 a month. That was a lot of money back then. I just believe I’m blessed. I’ve been challenged even in my own career. Bumping up against Dana White and holding my ground with him and his contracts. I’ve just been that kind of standup guy and I’m going to go out like that.”
Why does McKee Snr believe it will be “an easy fight” ?
“One the range and range has a lot to do with a fight, understanding movement and gauging that range. He’s been fighting the same way for quite some time. I don’t think you can change it in eight weeks, I don’t think you can change it in ten weeks, I don’t think you can change it in two months. We’ve been training for this since day one. We have a very unique style that he hasn’t seen before. He’s been doing it on and off. I just think it’s going to be too overwhelming. He’s got to close the distance. What are we worried about? Wrestling? He’ll struggle no matter where this fight is, he won’t be able to relax. Only thing we’re really concerned about is making sure that USADA steps in and makes these fighters do drug tests. A fighter his age, and I’m not accusing him of anything, but I look at pictures of him in the past and now… I’m a 50 year old man and this is all natural and hard work. But let me tell you something to maintain that type of muscle genetically, it’s a lot harder for others. People of colour, not to bring colour into it, but genetically it’s a little different. I’m just hoping USADA is making sure we get those good tests and everything is great because we’re going to pass all those tests.”
Albarracin interjected again.
“You shouldn’t be worried about USADA, you should be worried about that wrestling defence. Joey Davis’ baby is a better wrestler than AJ.”
“let me explain this to you, not all Afro-Americans grow up in an environment that will allow them to go that far. It’s not a matter of being black and white but unfortunately we come from a distressed life and we’re not afraid to talk about it. He grew up in the streets of Compton. Drive-by [shootings] and AK-47s going by his house. He lived with me part-time. This kid had all odds against him. Again, what you’re talking about, look we don’t have any of that. When it comes to fighting and transitioning we’re the best at what we do.”
Then it was the fighters turn.
Pitbull, the champion at 145 and 155 pounds, began.
“I believe it’s the perfect fight. I’m going to finish this guy. Now I’m a little bit older than the rest of the division. I know the power I have and how fast I am. I am going to use this.”
AJ McKee responded:
“I think it’s been a great journey. I’ve been dreaming of this and been calling out Pitbull’s name since I started in that cage. He’s ignored me and acted like he didn’t know who I am. He’s got nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He’s got to look me in my eyes and we’ve got to get down to the nitty gritty. I’m looking forward to it. People say I haven’t been tested and I agree, I haven’t been tested. I promise you guys the day I do get tested you’re going to see a different animal come out. If that’s the stick he wants to draw, that’s for us to go in and tango with. It’s going to be sweet like tango.”
AJ McKee spoke when asked about wanting to become the face of Bellator:
“Now I wanna run it back for that second belt as well, solidify that stamp on that. Before Conor McGregor became champ champ these were all things I said I was going to do and I’m going to do. Speaking it into fruition and now it’s all in reach and I can grasp it, bring it all together. I’m ready man. This has been a long journey. It’s all here. I went through all the trials and tribulations and not wanting to fight to where I’m hungry again. I found the passion in what I do again. It’s going to be fun man. Especially the long break and going through the knee surgery. A lot has opened up in my mind in the last two years. I’m looking forward to going in there and putting on a good show. ‘The Mercenary’ does one thing, he signs the contract and takes then out.”
Pitbull responded on AJ:
“AJ is dangerous, I know that. I’m ready to defend my title. I know I’m going to win this fight and prove that his father is wrong.”
AJ McKee on what next:
“That’s a good question. We’ve got to defend the belt a few times. I can’t really think that far ahead. I’ve got to focus on the task ahead and right now that’s capturing my first world title and my million dollar cheque. I’ve got an extra 0 to fight for, it’s not just the six zeros on my cheque but on my record. I’ve grown a lot to prove. For me, I love the haters and the underdog. I always root for them. I’ve got a question though, how come it looks like the coaches are in the gym but fighter is at home? That done make sense to me. Ya’ll know where I’m at.”
“I am in my room enjoying my belts.”
“Enjoy them while you can. You’re too comfortable. You can’t hide or duck, none of that shit. No more. Right here, you know what it is. I’ve got a round, you’re going to get desperate and get laid out.”
AJ on passion:
“What brought it back? Um I would say knowing my calling. I went through a little rough patch. It was nothing compared to the life my father lived. We all have our trails and tribulations in life. It’s being able to grow in those and learn.”
THEN IT ERUPTED BETWEEN THEM… AND IT LIT UP.
“I’ve been calling Pitbull’s name for six years and he’s ignored me like he doesn’t know who I am. For me that automatically shows me something. You see fear in me or you already know what the issue is and you’re just trying compromise somehow. For me at the end of the day everything else is irrelevant. When we step in the cage these are going to do the talking. That’s what I’m waiting for and prepared for. That’s what I’ve looked forward to. You go to my interviews five years ago and that’s what I’m calling for. AJ, who’s AJ? You know who exactly who the fuck AJ is. Don’t sit here and play like you got amnesia dog. You know exactly who I am, exactly what I want and exactly what I’m coming to take. That’s why you’re sitting in that room enjoying them belts right now, both them coming home with me. That’s what it is.”
“That’s very curious but his father told us I’m the easiest fight. I’m prepared for danger and I’m ready too.”
“You are, we’ve been preparing for you since day one. You’ve ignored me and played your game. You can’t ignore me, I’m ready. You think you know who I am. You know what I want. Bring them belts, spit polish.”
“This is the fight we’ve prepared for. He’s been the man since we’ve stepped in that cage. Always preparing for him. Once again I got almost a foot longer reach on him. He’s got to come to me. If he wants to wrestle go ahead. You can hump my leg and I’m going to do the same thing to you that I did to Pat Curran and Caldwell – I’m comfortable off my back. Just because you’re Brazilian you’ve got jui jitsu? I’ve got that evolved jui jitsu wrestling.
I’m not just about to pull a straight arm bad. I’m about to put some finesse on it. Whatever I hit you with you’re not going to see coming.”
“Oh my god. You’re bigger and longer? It’s nothing. I don’t care.”
“And I hit like a truck. What’s your stats like? How many have you finished in the first round? How many times you took an L? I beat people you lose to. No one will beat me, ever. My mental is on lock. Like I said I’ve got the key to the game. McKey – you hear it.”
“You’re not complete yet. One day you’re going to be the world champ but not now.”
“I’ll be champ July 31st, at the Forum in Los Angeles while everyone roars my name and you’ll be on the ground, flatlined.”
AJ on respect for Pitbull:
“Definitely, nothing but respect. He’s done things that I dream of doing. That’s what I have so much respect for him. But at the end of the day now he’s stepping in front of me and he’s now a pawn in this game of chess and he’s stopping me from moving where I need to move, that’s when the respect has to have a level. I respect him to a certain level. The level of respect that doesn’t come back, that just fuels my fire. You can try to ignore me and act like you don’t know who I am, but at the end of the day when we both hop in that cage he’s going to deal with someone he’s never dealt with before.”
“I know that. I know who you are. You are dangerous but I’m going to beat you. I know you are dangerous stop saying that. It doesn’t make sense.”
“it doesn’t make sense? And it didn’t make sense. You know exactly who I am. That’s why you switched all the good fighters in the tournament to one side of the bracket hoping Caldwell could do something you didn’t want to do. You wanted to see what Caldwell could do. Can Caldwell take him down? Look at how that turned up for him. A minute and eleven seconds, a minute and a eleven seconds. 1:11 because that’s where I am. I’m number one. Since day one. You’ve been protected dog but your time’s over, I’m coming for you next. I’m going to take your ass to the pound dog.”
“It’s scary. Because we are prepared and everything has been done right. There’s no fear. I was fighting with broken hands and going through shit in life. But never exposed that shit to anyone. I’m just going to do what I’ve got to do. That’s the mentally that my dad put in me. Do what you’ve got to do, don’t complain about shit, man up and keep it pushing. At the end of the day I’m not worried. I’ve been preparing for this fight since the Caldwell fight. I already knew what he’d so. He’s going to come out, I’ll hit his ass and he’ll go into wrestle mode. That’s exactly what happened. This has been the fight I’ve been prepared for for 17 fights. He hasn’t paid attention to me for 17 fights. He’s ignored me for about ten and the last seven thought, ‘shit, this kid’s the truth, let me get prepared.’ It’s not enough time. I’m ten fights ahead. I’m ready to go in there and do what I do best. I could have fought last month, I could fight right now, I could have fought a year ago. I’m just ready. I’m glad the contract’s finally signed and I see his name on it. Hey, we can make this a family affair. I don’t care. Everybody can get this smoke because with smoke comes fire and I’m bringing it.”
“In the beginning of his career, it’s normal. He faced low level guys. I’m still here as the champion and I will still be champion after this fight.”
President Coker then responded on USADA:
“The protocol will be done by the Athletic Commission. We’ll be talking to Andy Foster. We’ll bring up what the coaches are worried about. The commission will govern it. We’ve been in business for a long time with these guys and we’ve never had an issue. To me, everything is fine.”
Everything is indeed fine. We are set for a war at The Forum. The OG against the rising star. And it promises to be very, very special.