If you haven’t heard the news yet, AJ McKee‘s original opponent for his return to the cage on Aug. 26 at Bellator 160 — Henry Corrales — has been forced to withdraw due to injury. Taking his place will be Cody “The Crow” Walker (8-4), who’s been competing under the Legacy FC banner. We caught up with AJ at the open workouts last Friday but it was before the opponent change. So you can skip through the first minute or so of the video interview below where he talks about facing Corrales if you want to and we won’t be mad at ya.
AJ McKee, as well as his brother-in-arms Joey Davis (aka Bonnie and Clyde), have been through a lot together growing up in South Central Los Angeles under the mentorship of AJ’s father, Antonio McKee, an MMA pioneer and legend on the regional circuit.
Under his father’s tutelage AJ took his success on the wrestling mats after winning the junior college state championship and made the transition to MMA in 2012, going 7-1 as an amateur. AJ then made his pro MMA debut with Bellator in April of last year and has reeled off four straight victories since then all via first-round stoppage, most recently knocking out Italy’s Danilo Belluardo (6-1) and handing him his first professional loss.
AJ has achieved a lot already at the age of 21, but by the time he turns 22 next Spring, he aims to have the Bellator featherweight title around his waist. “I did an interview with Bellator the other day and they asked me the biggest moment of my career, and I couldn’t come up with the biggest moment of my career, just because I don’t feel I’ve reached where I feel that I should be at,” McKee said. “I did say I’m going to put it into existence and the biggest moment of my career is getting that belt around my waist and being the youngest champ there is. Hopefully before my 22nd birthday, April 7, 2017, I’ll have that belt around my waist and be the youngest champ ever and to be undefeated.”
Asked what he attributes all his success thus far to, AJ did not hesitate, “My father. He’s my jiu-jitsu coach, my standup coach, my wrestling coach. He’s my life coach. He’s been through it all, he’s done it all already. I kind of listen to what he tells me to do and take it all in, even when I don’t like what he’s telling me to do or kind of second guess what he’s telling me to do, I suck it up and I’ll do it anyways, just because he has been there, he has done it all already, especially in the sport of MMA.”
AJ, like most teenagers, wasn’t always the good son and sometimes Fathers have to let their sons make their own mistakes so the lessons really sink in. AJ talked about the time he left to live with his mom.
“That’s just that father-son rebellion thing, you know,” AJ explained. “You’re always going to butt heads with your parents and I feel he let me step away and realize I was fucking up, you know and messing up. Once I realized it, started getting in trouble and doing the wrong things, you know I’m like, ‘Hey man is this really the path you want to go down?’ ”
It takes character to realize the road you’re headed down is not the right one. The sign posts are usually there but we just don’t look or choose not to see them. Thankfully, AJ realized there was a better choice he could make and took action.
“I think he knew I realized it and I moved back and just got back on the grind and gave it 110,” AJ stated. “I’d say 100 percent but after high school, little bit of college, I went to Notre Dame for a year and then came back, won JUCO State, broke my finger, got my State Championship here, got the ring I always wanted. And from there I just kind of felt there was nothing left for me in wrestling anymore. And I stepped off and went into MMA and went into a sport I felt I could be more elusive and explosive and entertaining.”
And if he’s been anything, it’s been entertaining. Joining AJ at Team Body Shop under the coaching of his father is his lifelong friend and 4xNCAA wrestling champ Joey Davis. AJ talked about their special relationship and how long they’ve been dreaming of not only fighting in MMA, but on the same card. And on Aug. 26 they will get to realize that dream.
“Joey Davis, that is a phenomenal athlete. Iron sharpens iron you know. I’m iron, he’s iron,” AJ explained. “We all grind everyday. Me and Joey been training… he came to my Dad at 5 years-old and he was training in my Dad’s garage, versus I was 3 at the time. So we kind of call each other Bonnie and Clyde, you know. We’ve been in street fights together, been shot at, stabbed. Kind of had really similar lives, him living in Compton, me living in Long Beach. Me going with him to Compton just to hang out and just experience different things, different lifestyles, different areas. This is something we dreamed of [the fight game] since we were about 5 or 7 years-old, watching the greats from Rampage, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, all these guys. We’ve all just watched them pave the path for us and it’s been our dream to fight on the same card since we were little kids. Now that the time is here… it’s our home crowd, it’s kind of my breaking point in my career to really take off.”
AJ McKee, as well as Joey Davis, are already success stories. But under Antonio’s guidance and advocacy it appears there is much much more to come.