A.J. McKee blames Patricio Freire for trilogy not happening, reflects on first career loss and what’s different now

·6 min read

When A.J. McKee strutted into the SAP Center ahead of Bellator 277 with his father Antonio by his side, he seemingly was king of the world – or at least of Bellator.

Perhaps unlike any star the promotion had up until that point, McKee had universal buzz. He wasn’t just in the spotlight, he was the entire spotlight. It was “The McKee Show,” despite the accolades of former champion and all-time Bellator great Patricio Freire, whom he was set to rematch later that night.

McKee looked invincible to that point – and he was as a professional. Eighteen opponents tried and failed to beat him, many miserably so. UFC president Dana White was badgered about McKee and the performance he put on nine months prior. Even White, a promoter who has long put on a sour face about competing promotions and their athletes, seemed open to future conversations.

It was on top of the mountain that McKee stumbled and fell for the first time. It was Freire’s night, at least according to two of three individuals whose opinions mattered. McKee lost a split decision and his title with it. His jaw nearly hit the canvas when “And the new” came out of the mouth of ring announcer Michael C. Williams’ mouth.

Now four months later, McKee is unwilling to admit that was the correct decision, but he will concede he did not perform up to par.

“I just wasn’t in the fight, man. I wasn’t ‘The Mercenary,'” McKee told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “I was just A.J. fighting. There was no kill or be killed. That kill or be killed, that’s what I thrive off of.”

With a “1” where a “0” was for his entire career up until minutes prior, McKee walked to the podium backstage in San Jose, Calif., popped open a bottle of champagne, and began to vent. His demeanor was a bit scrambled, probably due to the processing of a loss – one he thought he won – still fresh.

As reporters wound up their “trilogy” questions, McKee shut them down before they were even asked and declared his next move would be lightweight. The weight cut was too much.

Moments later, Bellator president Scott Coker was noncommittal. He told reporters he’d wait to see how things played out.

Fast forward to present day and McKee is booked for Bellator 286, an event set for Oct. 1 in his home city of Long Beach, Calif. McKee is on the card. So is Freire. But they aren’t fighting one another. One fight before Freire defends his title against Adam Borics in the main event, McKee will make his lightweight debut against UFC alumnus Spike Carlyle in the co-main.

“(Bellator) pretty much said, ‘No, you won’t be getting a title fight.’ So I said, ‘OK, if I’m not getting a title fight, then I’m not fighting at 145 pounds.’ With that being said, I was looking to move up to 155 pounds,” McKee said. “I believe it was about a month-and-a-half or two months ago when I’m like, ‘No title fight? All right, cool. Then, I’m going to 155.'”

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While McKee isn’t sure what the promotion did or did not offer his Brazilian rival, he said he understands the pull that comes with holding a title. Freire holds the cards and chose not to request a trilogy, McKee explained.

“That’s all bullsh*t, bro,” McKee said. “You’re the f*cking champ. Do you understand the power in being the champion? No, he doesn’t. That’s why he’s not the champ. I’m the true champ, bro. If you’re the champ, you make the shots. You call it: ‘Hey, I’m the champ. I want to fight A.J. McKee again. It’s that simple. I’m not fighting anybody else. I’m fighting A.J. McKee.’ That’s what I did. You thought the first one was a fluke? All right, cool. Sh*t, we can fight again.

“… The next fight, if we do fight again, I promise you it’s going to look a lot like the first one. And yeah, I said I was going to finish him in the second. Bro, have you ever read the art of war? Mental warfare is the No. 1 part of war. I’m already in this man’s head, through his butthole. I’m so far inside of him, he doesn’t know what to do. He is emotionally lost. So if he wants to fight, bro, let’s fight. I’ll come back down to 145 pounds because I know he doesn’t want to see me at 155. Who wants to see me at 155? Maybe the 155ers think they do – until they see me.”

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Despite his disappointment in the decision and resentment for Freire, whom he said is the first person he’s actually wanted to cause physical harm to in his career, McKee identified self-flaws to fix. His motivation was a big part of what he attributes his loss to, but the fire is back.

There’s a “Pitbull” at both featherweight and lightweight, so McKee indicated the saga is far from over. It’s just a matter of which direction it goes next.

“I want to make this a family affair,” McKee said. “Before Conor McGregor became (UFC) champ-champ back in 2016, in 2015 I was doing interviews about how I would be champ-champ. If I were to have gotten the win in that fight, even though I know I won that fight, the trajectory of my career after that (would’ve been) like, ‘I’m going to fight his brother now, no matter who is in line. I’m fighting his brother and that’s the next fight. “Pitbull” again, and I’m going to be a champ-champ.’ That was my goal and my aspiration.

“Things work in mysterious ways, and it’s playing out just the way it’s supposed to. That’s just my faith with the man upstairs. I’ve just got to continue to be the best that I can be inside and outside of the cage, so that when it does come time to be inside of that cage, I can perform at 100 percent.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie