A.J. McKee gets to be a part of some history on New Year’s Eve 2022.
The former Bellator Featherweight champion heads to Saitama, Japan for RIZIN 40 on Dec. 31, 2022, alongside four other roster members to take on their opposing RIZIN competitors. For McKee (19-1), he finds himself matched with surging Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) wizard and reigning RIZIN Lightweight champion, Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza.
Unfortunately for McKee, Satoshi’s title won’t be on the line in the cross-promotional clash. That fact came as a “smack on the knee” to “The Mercenary” who is always seeking to achieve the status of a champion no matter the organization.
“For me, it’s keeping that same mindset that it’s a championship bout,” McKee told MMA Mania with a laugh on BROADENED HORIZIN. “Obviously, Bellator has me representing Bellator because they feel like I’m the man for the job. So, me keeping that in mind is knowing I’m the man for the job regardless of who has a belt, who has the 155-pound title. I’m the person that’s representing Bellator so it’s coming in there and treating it as I’m the champ and this is a championship bout.
“To me, undefeated’s a mindset, it’s not really a record,” he continued. “It’s what you’re capable of within yourself so I’m still undefeated in my eyes. I don’t care what anybody says. And it ain’t no Sean O’Malley undefeated. I’m undefeated, alright? We’re coming for it. I’m fiending for a finish.”
McKee, 27, is now one fight removed from being dethroned by Featherweight rival and multi-time champion, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. At Bellator 286 last month (Oct. 1, 2022), McKee ventured to 155 pounds for the first time, dominating Spike Carlyle en route to a unanimous decision win.
Satoshi presents essentially every opponent of his with a caliber of BJJ that they’ve never faced before, and the same applies to McKee. Aware of the dangers on the mat, McKee is intrigued to see exactly where his wrestling stands with someone like the Bonsai Jiu Jitsu product.
“Obviously, you want to test the waters a bit, but I feel like all that comes from the training camp,” McKee said of grappling Satoshi. “Trusting in my teammates, trusting in my coaches, and just knowing they’re putting me through the trenches and the ringer every day so that when it comes time to actually putting myself in that situation that I’m more than comfortable to deal with whatever’s at hand. Just maneuver through it the best that I can.
“But obviously, I’m not trying to go down there like, ‘Hey, what’s up, player?! How you doing?!’ Nah, I’m good,” he laughed
Watch the full episode in the video embedded above or you can listen on Spotify.