AJ McKee is all set to play a starring role for Team Bellator when he steps into the main event spotlight at the special Bellator vs. Rizin event in Saitama on New Year’s Eve.
“I’m ready man, this is like a dream come true,” he said ahead of the bout.
“I’m happy to be here. I’ve been embracing it all. I’m embracing the fans, the culture and the people. I’m ready to put on a great show.”
McKee takes on Rizin lightweight champion Roberto “Satoshi” Souza, a dangerous submission specialist whose skills will pose a unique challenge to McKee, who is confident in his own abilities on the mat.
“He’s good, I feel he hasn’t fought anybody of my caliber yet so I’m looking forward to bringing the fight and pushing the pace,” said McKee.
“It’s going to be a fun fight, it’s going to be an exciting fight. It’s going to be a fight where I think the people are going to love it, I think I’m going to love it. It’s a ring so for me it’s going to be a bit different. For this fight in particular I’m not too worried about it.”
The bout represents the chance for McKee to fight in front of a packed crowd on New Year’s Eve in Japan. December 31 events in Japan are something of a martial arts tradition, and McKee is excited to be a part of it.
“For me it’s an honor man, just because my father fought out here 10 years ago, so me feeling like I’m his revenge for his legacy in the fight game, its just time for the McKees to get the respect and recognition they deserve, that’s my whole goal in life and in mixed martial arts.
“For me, I’ve always felt that I’m the money fight. I bring good fights, entertaining fights, so with that being said, it’s an honor,” he continued.
“I’ve always talked about cross promotions and champions versus champions to see who the best of the best is, so for myself this is just an opportunity for me to go out and show the world why I’m the best in the world and I appreciate Rizin for the opportunity.”
While his immediate focus is on Souza on New Year’s Eve, McKee is planning a big year in 2023. He has already moved up from featherweight to lightweight, but continuing his rivalry with featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull is something he’s keen to pursue.
“There’s nothing in the talks, but me personally obviously, one and one with Patricio, that’s legacy,” he said.
“It’s not about the money, it’s not about anything else. That’s something that needs to be settled. So, 2023 that’s the fight that’s in the making.
“We got a newly crowned champ at 155, Usman Nurmagomedov. That’s my stomping ground now, so if Patricio doesn’t step up, that’s the fight I’m looking forward to.”
His opponent, meanwhile, is equally excited for the challenge that lies ahead.
“I’m very happy. I’m looking forward to the fight,” said Souza.
“Of course, I’m a little bit nervous, but I look forward to the fight.
“I think he is a dangerous fighter but that is about it. He is from Bellator so of course, he was chosen.”
Souza plans to not only win, but to get the job done inside the distance and lay a marker down for Rizin in the headline bout of the night.
“Like I always say, I won’t be waiting for a decision. I will finish the match,” he said.
“I know it’s going to be a difficult fight. It may be one of the most difficult fights of my career, but I’ve trained hard for this match, and I will get a win and raise the name of Rizin around the world.
“I always have so many plans going into matches but those do not become real when the match starts. This time I’ve been practicing my striking skills a lot.”