Bellator Fighter Portrait: AJ “Mercenary” McKee

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AJ “Mercenary” McKee (16-0 MMA, 16-0 BMMA) is an American mixed martial artist from Long Beach, CA. AJ is a second-generation fighter. His father and head coach, Antonio McKee Sr. is a pioneer in the sport of MMA, and has successfully passed the torch to his son.

Life Before Fighting

Antonio De Carlo McKee jr., more so known by his ring name, AJ McKee, was born in Long Beach, CA on April 7, 1995, making him only 24 years old. “A time when things were rough,” AJ said to describe life growing up in his home town. Long Beach consistently has a higher than average crime rate.

AJ’s parents never married, and split soon after his birth. He lived with his father and step-mother. His father was often gone because of his own fighting career. When younger, AJ got into a lot of fights in and outside of school as a way to deal with the chaotic struggles in his life.

AJ was a student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where he joined the wrestling team. AJ went on to college, attending Notre Dame College of Ohio. There, he would wrestle as well, alongside three-time Division II national champion Joey Davis. Things ended up not working at Notre Dame, hence AJ briefly attending Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. This however, would be short-lived. AJ realized his passion, and soon was training full-time at BodyShop Fitness.

Born a Fighter

AJ’s father, Antonio De Carlo McKee Sr., is a long time martial artist himself, who, at the age of 50, still competes to this day. Antonio has competed in several promotions, including a brief stint in the UFC. He is currently signed with Bellator, the same promotion as his son, and competes in the lightweight division. He is credited with establishing “BodyShop Fitness,” a high-level training center, in Lakewood, CA.

AJ’s father is his main inspiration for fighting. He respects the fact that his father is a first-generation fighter, and has trained with several legends. The gym that he established has been a training center for some big names in the sport. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, the IFL’s Tokyo Sabre team, and Chuck Liddell have all spent time training with Antonio in Lakewood. Moreover, The father-son duo was even in Chuck Liddell’s corner in his most recent fight, when “The Iceman” was KO’d in his trilogy bout with Tito Ortiz. The likes of Emanuel Newton and Bubba Jenkins currently train and fight out of BodyShop Fitness.

AJ grew up around MMA. His father being such a big name in the sport likely helped in forming a determination to take on the same career path. So far AJ has been wildly successful as a fighter; it seems to have been the best decision he could have made.

Cornering his Father

At Bellator 228, On September 28, 2019, Antonio McKee Sr. returned to MMA for the first time in five years. He defeated William Sriyapai by technical knockout (TKO) in the second round. Antonio controlled the first round, successfully feeling out his opponent before taking him down and controlling him until the bell.

AJ was there that night not just to compete in his own fight, but to be a cornerman for his father. He gave solid advice to the fired-up Antonio in between the first and second rounds. While Antonio won the first round, he would throw a few looping hands that were often missing the target. AJ recognized this and calmly gave his thoughts during the intermission. “You’re throwing an overhand, stop looping it…’ just commit on the middle,’ he’s slow,” AJ also gave his father some final words of encouragement prior to the start of the second round.

The fight wouldn’t go on much longer form there. Antonio would score a takedown and pass Siryapai’s guard within the first minute of the round, then reign down a load of punches on Siryapai which quickly ended the fight.

The night would only get better for the McKee family. AJ would go on later that night to win his own fight against Georgi Karakhanyan in just eight seconds. One of the fastest knockouts in Bellator history.

Fighting Style and Career

AJ went 7-1 in his amateur career from 2012-2014 before being picked up by Bellator in 2015. His current professional record is 16-0 (6 KO, 5 SUB, 5 DEC).

On April 10, 2015, AJ made his professional debut at Bellator 136. He defeated Marcos Bonilla via submission (rear-naked choke) just over two minutes into the first round. Throughout his time in Bellator, he amassed 16 victories in a row, 11 of which by stoppage. AJ’s father was criticized throughout his career for having so many decision victories. It’s likely for this reason that AJ tends to go for the finish in every fight. AJ has the longest winning streak in Bellator history, a record that is still active.

AJ has a very unorthodox style that often gives his opponents a lot of trouble. If one were to watch his fights, they would see that he is very calm and calculated when in the ring. He comes out with a fairly wide stance, which he likely adopted from his time training Shotokan Karate since he was a child.

One of AJ’s greatest strengths is that he has spectacular skills in every aspect of fighting. Whether the fight remains a striking battle or goes to the ground, AJ has proved that he can finish his opponents. On multiple occasions, he has finished opponents with his creative striking, as well as high-level Jiu-Jitsu. Whatever your specialty as a fighter may be, you have no reason to feel comfortable when stepping into the ring with AJ McKee.

Future in Bellator

Bellator is currently hosting its Featherweight World Grand Prix tournament, which AJ McKee has been steadily rising through the ranks of. Also competing in the tournament is Patricio “Pitbull” Friere, the current Bellator Featherweight and Lightweight champion. If Patricio loses in any bracket of the tournament, his victor will be crowned lineal champion. The lineal champion loses the title upon his next loss or wins the tournament to become the undisputed champ. The winner of the tournament will claim the Bellator Featherweight Championship, as well as a $1,000,000 prize.

In the opening round of the tournament, “Mercenary” executed his prominent eight-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan at Bellator 228. AJ’s most recent fight was against Derek Compos in the quarter-finals of the tournament at Bellator 236. Early in the contest, AJ tore his ACL, but pushed through and finished Compos in the third round via submission (armbar). This battle proved much tougher than his previous fight, however, it secured his spot in the semi-finals of the Featherweight Grand Prix.

AJ McKee was expected to face Darrion Caldwell on June 6, 2020 in the semi-finals of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix Tournament. However, the event has been postponed to an indefinite date. This is the case with the rest of the Bellator events scheduled for 2020, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, AJ is hoping to compete as soon as possible and believes his ACL will most likely be healed by the time his fight with Campos comes around.

AJ’s sights are currently set on the featherweight championship, but his ultimate goal is to move up to lightweight and take the 155 lb belt.

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Quote sources: We Are Bellator: AJ McKeeAntonio McKee Sr. vs William Siryapai

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