The new generation of Mixed Martial Artists have been gaining momentum in the professional leagues. These are young athletes who grew up watching (MMA) and have trained in at least various aspects of the sport. Some happen to be second-generation athletes, learning directly from their parents. A.J McKee Jr belongs to this group, taking instruction from his father, Antonio McKee (29-6-2), a well respected mixed martial artist in his own right.
A.J has built an incredible record in his short professional career going 5-0, with all of his victories coming by KO or submission…and always in an entertaining fashion. Though A.J has a solid wrestling base he prefers to strike and find the knockout, to give the fans what they’re looking for. Training out of Team Body Shop in Lakewood California, A.J has a staple of skilled training partners to prepare for Bellator 166, including the likes of Emanuel Newton, Baby Slice, and Anthony Taylor.
We spoke to A.J ahead of his fight at Bellator 166 on December 3nd (Australia) about his next opponent, the extremely durable Emmanuel Sanchez, and where he sees his career going.
Spoiler: It involves a belt, a very particular belt.
The Neversphere: I heard you were in San Jose for Bellator 165 on the weekend, how was the atmosphere at the event?
A.J: It’s great. It was unbelievable being up there, it’s been getting me ready for my fight. I was loving it…Just being in that cage…I was just bouncing around the cage like I’m getting ready to fight. Everyone was like, ‘are you fighting today?’ and I’m like, ‘nah man, just getting ready for my fight, getting a feel for it.’
I’m ready to go, it’s going to be a show. This is a great fight for me to go out there and utilise my skills, and really make a loud statement by finishing Emmanuel Sanchez.
No one has finished him, from Daniel Weichel to Pat Curran, guys who I feel are #2 and #3 in our division. With that being said, it’ll be a great statement to go out there and knock him out or get a submission.
The Neversphere: Taking a step back from your next fight, your Dad was a successful mixed martial artist in his own right, and has been involved in your MMA career in a coaching capacity. But your style is very different to his, how’s it been training with your Dad?
A.J: It’s amazing man. He’s not just my Dad, he’s my best friend, he’s my coach, he’s my mentor. He’s literally anything and everything I could possibly want in one person. As far as the style, I’ve got the same wrestling as him. I don’t choose to use it, because that’s not what the people want to see; people want to see a great knockout or finish. I’m always looking to give the people what they want.
The Neversphere: On that, you’re clearly a very entertaining fighter and personality. Is that something you work on or are you just being yourself?
A.J: That’s just me being me. My Dad always told me to come up with a character and person to be, but I don’t want to put a front out there. I want to be myself and do the things that I like to.
The Neversphere: So, you finished your first four fights in the first round and your fifth fight in the second round. Last time round you attributed having to go into the second round to some antics involving Wiz Khalifa, but you also had your opponent change on you last minute. How did you feel about that fight?
A.J: It was great! With the opponent switching up, and me fighting Cody Walker, it was different because I was planning for that fight against Henry Corrales. Just be on the outside and keep my range, keep him at bay. Switching up with Cody Walker who’s 6’2” with a 78” reach, it’s like you’re not going to stay on the outside of that. You’re going to get to the middle and get on the inside and look for a finish on the inside.
So it was a quick switch up but it was great to see that I can adapt so quickly and be able to change my style, and do what I do best; put on a show and entertain everyone.
The Neversphere: That must be a confidence booster too, knowing that you can adapt and adjust your game plan, and still come away with a decisive win…
A.J: Definitely, definitely. That’s the thing with fighting, you know? Every fight’s a different fight; every person is a different person. Every fight is going to be a new fight. Emmanuel Sanchez is great paced fighter, he’s going to bring the fight. He’s not going to stop, he’s going to continue to go, so if he’s going to continue to go, I’m going to have to stop him myself…hopefully with a left hand or a right hook, or a submission.
The Neversphere: He definitely looks like an experienced fighter who isn’t afraid to try risky things in order to win, is that a concern for you?
A.J: Not at all. Stylistically, I feel like it’s a great fight for me just because he’s an ordinary fighter with a cardio tank that’s out of this world, you know? That guy can go and go and go. He usually weathers the storm and ends up breaking people.
That being said, I’m not going to give him the opportunity to weather the storm. I’m going to make sure that storm is such a horrendous storm, I’m going to bring so much ferocity in that storm, that it finishes him and it puts him down…it does something that no one else has been able to do. And that’s get a finish over him.
The Neversphere: Do you have a prediction for this fight?
A.J: It’s not going past three minutes in the second round. It’s going to be a fun show.
Everyone talks about how I’m such a young fighter. I don’t really feel like any of these other prospects, I don’t even really feel like I’m a prospect, I feel like I’m the young GOAT. I’m shooting for the stars. I want to be the greatest of all time. I’m going to be the greatest of all time.
So far with my record not having any flaws in it, somebody’s going to have to try to come stop me. And I’ll continue to prove everyone wrong, prove that I am what I say I am. I just gotta prove it to them…
The Neversphere: Yeah man, you’re definitely rising up the featherweight rankings fast…Looking past Bellator 166 and Sanchez, what do you see when you think about the future?
A.J: For me, from my first fight, I’ve wanted that belt, you know? I want that belt, that’s my belt. Strauss is holding the property of A.J McKee right now and I’m looking to take my property.
Who knows? Maybe after this fight I can get a title shot, if he’s not ready, if he’s still hurt, then I feel…it’s been almost a year…it [the belt] needs to be vacated. If he’s ready to come back why not throw him a young prospect to supposedly beat up on? I’d love to take that fight. I’d take that fight any time. It’s going to be a war and I know at the end of the day I can break him and I will break him. I’m going to do what I got to do to get that belt around my waist. That’s my overall goal for the first step of my career.
The Neversphere: Looking back at your previous fights you’re always looking for a finish, I assume it’s a tiring style. Do you think you could maintain that pace for five 5-minute rounds if that title shot does come your way?
A.J: I feel like I’d be more composed, and more seasoned, knowing it’s five rounds. I know for sure I can keep it up for three 5s easy. For five 5-minute rounds…I don’t really want anybody going five rounds anyway, that’s why I get everybody out of there in the first two. If not the first two, the third for sure. People break after two minutes. If you’re taking two minutes of your face getting pummeled in, getting taken down and kicked around, that third round you’re like, ‘man, I’ve got a whole other five minutes of this? I don’t want to be here any more!’
I don’t want anybody going past the third round. I don’t want to be in there that long and I don’t think anybody should be in there with me that long.
That belt at 145lb has been vacant for almost a year now. Hey, I’m a hot prospect, let me get a shot a Straus. That belt’s going to end up around my waist. And once I get that belt, it’s not going anywhere.
The Neversphere: At the Neversphere we cover music as well as MMA. I have to ask, what’s your current walk out tune and does it have any special meaning behind it?
A.J: I’ve got two songs I want to walk out to but I can’t request this until I have something to bring to the table on a main event or title shot…
But I want to walk out with Kevin Gates playing the song Wish I Had It. I just kind of feel like he’s talking about my life. He said, ‘I see everything I dream about and wish I had…[sings] Out my window’. Everything I wish I had, I see it and I dream about it, so I’m going for it.
The other one is Russ What They Want, he’s talking about how he’s been at it for nine years. Nine years. He’s talking about not taking it personally, he’s pointing out all the puppets and who he doesn’t mess with, and how he’s a hot commodity, how he’s demanding stuff way above the price range and I’m like, ‘Man! This is my song! He’s gotta walk out with me.’
Hopefully I can get one of those guys to walk out with me and put on another show, before the show…
The Neversphere: Man, that’d be amazing! I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to see you in that main event or title shot position…and thanks for your time, we’ll be cheering you on from down here in Australia.
A.J: Thank you very much man, hopefully I’ll come visit in Australia. I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place; I want to get out there one day…
Editor’s note: It was announced on the 29th (Australia) that Emmanuel Sanchez had to pull out of this fight due to injury. Ray Wood (7-2) has stepped up to take his place on short notice.