Fast-rising featherweight prospect A.J. McKee looks to make it nine straight wins this Friday (August 25) when he takes on Blair Tugman at Bellator 182 in New York.
The gifted 22-year-old has hardly put a foot wrong so far in his two-and-a-half-year professional MMA career and last time out, in April, scored a stunning head-kick knockout of Dominic Mazzotta.
Before his fight with Tugman, the Long Beach phenom took some time out of preparations to answer the questions of Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid.
Q: What are your thoughts on Blair Tugman and how do you see the fight on Friday playing out?
A.J. McKee: Tugman is a tough guy and a hard worker. He is kind of big. It’s just another fight. I am looking to go in there and put on another show. I want to give the fans what they want, which is to be entertained. I want to come out with another highlight reel finish. I want to make ESPN and Sportscenter again. That was a great feeling and some added motivation to my tank. That’s what I am looking for.
Q: The head-kick KO of Dominic Mazzotta was a highlight on Sportscenter. What are your takeaways from that great performance?
AM: It was fun. It was nice to get back all that hard work and see that it paid off. It changed my lifestyle. It made fighting my lifestyle; being in the gym all the time; eating, sleeping and breathing it. The hard work paid off. It was a great feeling, probably one of the best feelings I have had in a long time.
Q: You recently said MMA started as a fun thing to do and now it has become more of a lifestyle. Can you elaborate on that? What changes were made to allow that to happen?
AM: It was cutting out the normal 21 or 22-year-old stuff; hanging out with your friends, going to the club and having those extracurricular activities that are not conducive for my career. I train two or three times a day. I go to the doctor in between sessions. I train on the weekend. I get my Saturday and Sunday afternoons to go do some paintball with my dudes.
Q: There are a number of guys in the title picture. I have seen some of your social media posts holding Bellator gold. How long until you wrap one of your own around your waist?
AM: I have goals. Jon Jones was the youngest champion ever at 23. I have until April to get that belt around my waist. I am hoping that by my eleventh fight I will have that strap around my waist.
Q: It’s well-established that you train under the guidance of your father Antonio, Sr. Can you put into words what he has meant to you professionally and personally?
AM: Man, it is a blessing. It is one of the biggest blessings God can ever give a child – having a father that puts everything into you. He sacrificed his own career to make sure I was set up to have a future. That’s the difference between these other second generation fighters and myself. He has seen it and been through it all. He has masterminded my style. He doesn’t try to make me fight a certain style. He takes my style and adds his knowledge to it.
Guys that come into the gym are starting to see it. They are coming in and they are not leaving. Kimbo Slice Jr came and stayed with us. Joey Davis Jr, who just came back from wrestling at Notre Dame, is 1-0. Now we have Aaron Pico, one of our childhood friends, who had a hiccup. He is one of the hardest workers out there. He gets on his grind as well. Body Shop is calling it ‘The Bellator Takeover’. It’s real.
Q: Many fighters go through an amateur career and smaller shows, but you jumped right into high-level MMA with Bellator. What does it mean to be a part of Bellator for your entire career and the foreseeable future?
AM: It’s a blessing. They saw from early on and believed in me early on. To know they had that faith in me and that they saw something in me that others didn’t… just having that, I don’t want to let them down. I want to show them what I am capable of, one step at a time. I am going to continue doing what I do and putting on a great show, giving fans what they want and giving Bellator what they want.
Q: With all the cross-promotional talk, who would your dream fight be right now?
AM: You have to go with the biggest name in the game right now. You can’t set your goal for something middle of the road. You have to shoot for the stars. Conor (McGregor) it is. I was calling out things I wanted to do and he went out and did it.
Q: How does McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather play out?
AM: With the betting odds I have to go with Conor. If you bet a grand you win five. You can’t go wrong there. But, for me, I say the first five rounds go to McGregor and anything past that you have to go with Floyd.