be_ixf;ym_202303 d_26; ct_100
Images from the Bellator 263 event in Los Angeles, California

A.J. McKee Defeats Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to Claim Bellator World Championship

Aug 022021

A historic night for Bellator MMA is in the books! Monster Energy congratulates A.J. McKee on his stunning first-round victory over Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to claim the Bellator Featherweight World Championship title at Bellator 263 on Saturday night. In the Main Event fight inside The Forum in Inglewood, California, the 26-year-old from Compton dealt the defending 145-pound champion a devastating defeat via technical submission (guillotine choke) to win the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix and $1 million grand prize.

Heralded as one of the most anticipated fights in franchise history, Bellator 263 - Pitbull vs. McKee was contested in front of a high-energy crowd at The Forum in Inglewood. Broadcast live on Showtime, the event marked the grand finale of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix that started in 2019 with 16 fighters.

The last two fighters standing brought historic accolades into the fight: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (32-5) stepped into the Octagon on a seven-fight win streak, looking to make his sixth consecutive defense of the Bellator Featherweight title. The 34-year-old jiujitsu expert from Brazil owns the record for most wins (20) and most title fight wins (10) in Bellator history. Freire also holds the Bellator Lightweight Championship belt as the second fighter in franchise history with simultaneous titles.


Pitbull found a worthy challenger in A.J. “The Mercenary” McKee (18-0). Undefeated since his professional MMA debut, McKee came to the LA Forum on the longest winning streak in Bellator history. Earning his way into Saturday’s title fight, McKee had blazed through the Featherweight Grand Prix and made short work of earlier opponents Georgi Karakhanyan, Derek Campos, and Darrion Caldwell.


Now the young fighter, who trains out of the Body Shop Fitness Team in Lakewood, California, was ready to fulfill his destiny: McKee had announced his goal of unseating Patricio Pitbull as early as 2015 when he made his Bellator MMA debut. He also wrote himself a $1 million check at age 12, which happened to be the exact purse in the Featherweight Grand Prix final.


The hometown crowd at the nearly sold-out LA Forum witnessed history in the making when McKee and Freire collided in the Octagon. From the start, both fighters kept their distance to gauge the other’s range, with McKee landing significant strikes.


The fight’s key moment unfolded when McKee rocked Freire with a left head kick, followed by a flurry of punches that sent the defending champ to the ground. McKee celebrated his apparent victory, but referee Mike Beltran insisted for the fight to continue. Next, McKee locked “Pitbull” into a standing guillotine choke – and it was all over. At merely 1 minute, 57 seconds of the first round, referee Beltran stopped the contest with McKee as the new Bellator Featherweight World Champion by technical submission.


The roaring crowd at The Forum erupted as McKee performed his signature backflip off the side of the cage to celebrate the 145-pound belt and winning the $1 million Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix.


“All my dreams are coming true. This is amazing. This is just the beginning, so we’re just getting started. I’m looking forward to holding this baby for the rest of my life. It ain’t going nowhere!” said Monster Energy’s McKee upon taking the Bellator Featherweight Championship belt on Saturday.

Thanking the hometown crowd, McKee said: “I knew this whole arena was there for me. It’s just phenomenal to have that much support. To do it not just for you, yourself and your family, but for the city.”


Saturday night’s Bellator Featherweight World Championship victory continues McKee’s undefeated career record. He now holds the most consecutive wins in Bellator history at 18 as well as the most submission wins in Bellator featherweight history (six), and most stoppages in the Featherweight division at 13. McKee trains with expert coaching from his father, MMA icon Antonio McKee, who already mentored certified legends like Rampage Jackson and Chuck Liddell.


What’s next for McKee? Right after the fight, the newly minted Featherweight champion announced plans to also go after Freire’s Lightweight division title. “That’s the next step,” said McKee in his post-fight interview. Stay tuned as “The Mercenary” continues his journey.