A.J. McKee had a blast in his Japanese debut.
The former Bellator featherweight champion enjoyed everything that came with fighting in Japan under the Rizin FF banner. From the fans and their reception, to walking out with an $100,000 samurai suit and ceremonies – it was all a good time for McKee (20-1).
But one of the things he enjoyed the most in his unanimous decision win over Roberto de Souza at Rizin FF 40: Bellator vs. Rizin on New Year’s Eve was some of the freedoms he got that aren’t available fighting in the U.S.
Under the Rizin FF rules set, kneeing or kicking a grounded opponent is fair game, something that under the Unified MMA rules in the U.S. is illegal.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been aware of the PRIDE fights, so I knew of the rules set and mindset,” McKee told MMA Junkie. “And me always being that warrior, always wanting to end the fights, I’ve always dreamed of doing that.
“So when it came full circle and I got the opportunity – you know, they call me the ‘Mercenary,’ dog. I have to use the entire arsenal. I’m not able to do that in some situations, but this was an opportunity to do so, and I just had to make sure I got a couple of those in there. It was just something I was very cognitive of. I had it in the back of my mind the entire time. I was like, ‘OK, where can I throw a knee? Where can I throw a kick?'”
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But it’s a double-edged sword. McKee admits that though there was plenty of excitement heading into the fight, there also was a new layer of nervousness because he, too, was susceptible to those new attacks.
“It can go both ways, and that’s why I say it was a tough fight,” McKee said. “I think with a bit more time and experience learning, that’s when it would be fun. That was just me going in there and thinking what to do off the top of my head. When it becomes second-hand nature, that’s when things get real fun.”
McKee wants to return to Japan in 2023 for a repeat experience. Yet, despite wanting a second go, the Bellator star would like for the U.S. to adopt the Japanese rule set in terms of ground attacks. If anything, McKee thinks the way Rizin FF judges fights is better than how they do it in America.
“If anything, we should take the way the fight works, the judging kind of style system,” McKee said. “Damage is obviously No. 1. If you get busted up in the fight, that’s No. 1. It shows who the aggressor is. Then it goes aggressor: What’s being done? Who’s doing it?
“If you’re doing submission after submission, and attempting these things, you’re being the aggressor. They judge the whole fight in one. You could lose two rounds and come in that third and just put it on him. That’s what they like.”