A.J. McKee changes tune on leaving featherweight, wants Freire trilogy before lightweight move

·4 min read

ARLINGTON, Texas – Three weeks after he vowed his time at featherweight was done, A.J. McKee has changed his tune.

After a unanimous decision loss to Patricio Freire (33-5 MMA, 21-5 BMMA) in the Bellator 277 main event in San Jose, Calif., in April in what was his first attempted title defense as featherweight champion, McKee (18-1 MMA, 18-1 BMMA) said he was done fighting at 145 pounds.

“I’m done with 145 unless we’re getting some superfights going,” McKee said at the post-event news conference. “I’ve been at 145 for years, and years, and years, and years, cutting a lot of weight. I don’t think people (really) see what goes into it. It’s a lot of work, not just for myself but my team, for my family. It’s rough seeing me get down to 145. … (At) 155, why not? (I’m) faster, stronger, bigger. I’m going to unleash that beast, monster style, baby. … I’m done with 145.”

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But now McKee seems to have changed his mind about that, and it appears the thought of not having a chance to get the featherweight title back from Freire is something he’s not willing to live with.

While at the PFL’s third event of the 2022 season this past Friday in Arlington, Texas, McKee told media members his comments about leaving featherweight behind are ones he needs to retract.

“I think in the heat of the moment, obviously being a little amped up, obviously not happy with the result – yeah, there was no interest for me in that moment,” McKee said. “Even leading up after the first fight, there was no real interest. But obviously him being a champ, give him the respect he deserves, and honor him with a rematch. Now it’s my turn. I was the champ. I feel I should be honored with my rematch, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

McKee submitted Freire quickly into their first fight in 2021 to win the title. His loss to Freire in the rematch was one he disputed. Two of the three judges scored it 48-47 for Freire; a third had it 49-46 for Freire. Of the media outlets tracked by MMADecisions.com, 13 of 16 had the fight for Freire.

McKee said a trilogy fight with Freire won’t end with anyone questioning who won.

“It won’t go to the judges,” he said. “There was a lot to learn within that (second) fight. … We know I won the fight, but I lost in a different realm. For me, it’s making the correct adjustments to come back properly and fuel the beast. This just adds fuel to the fire. That’s the next step: Just get back in there, get a date locked in, and go retrieve my title.

“The next fight, I think is going to look a lot like the first one. I’ve always felt you need to beat the champ. I don’t feel I was really beaten, but obviously I took an ‘L.’ 145s, I can’t leave the division on a loss, that’s for sure. (We’re) 1-1, so let’s see. Let the best man win.”

When McKee talked about going to lightweight just after his loss to Freire, he suggested a third fight could take place at 155 pounds – where Freire also was champion until he vacated that belt after he lost the featherweight title to McKee. By vacating the belt, he opened the door for his brother, Patricky Freire, to win the title.

Now McKee wants to win back the featherweight title from Patricio Freire, then go up to lightweight and take that title from Patricky. He also said despite a lot of talk about his contract heading into Bellator 277, he has no plans on leaving the promotion.

“(Patricio is) not coming up to 155 – we all know that,” McKee said. “That’s why he released the belt in the first place. He wanted his brother to be the champ. That’s cool. … Bellator’s home – definitely. Definitely. That’s still the goal – I want to be champ-champ. First step is retrieving my (featherweight) title back, then game plan to get that second one.”

Check out McKee’s full interview in the video above.

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