On Saturday, AJ McKee will be one half of what many consider the biggest fight on Bellator’s 2021 schedule when he challenges Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for his 145-pound title in the finals of the promotion’s featherweight Grand Prix. Bellator 263 will be a career-defining opportunity for the 26-year-old as he takes on a promotional legend Freire. However, he thinks he’s already gained an early on the champion because McKee says he’s taken ownership on a nice plot of land inside “Pitbull’s” head.
AJ McKee on ‘Pitbull’: ‘I think I’m in his head’
“I’ve been calling ‘Pitbull’s’ name for 17 fights. He’s kind of ignored me and acted like he didn’t know who I am. Switched the brackets. Said Pat Curran was going to beat me. So now there’s nowhere else to hide. There’s no fear factor. He’s a big one to tell everybody’s he going to kill them and knock them out. And he’s not saying that this time,” McKee told MixedMartialArts.com “I think I’m in his head a little bit. I don’t know. Once that door closes and that bell dings, we’re both going to change into two different people.”
During the second half of what has been a historic run in Bellator, Freire has developed a reputation for the power in his hands. It’s something he put on display in the first round of the tournament by knocking out Pedro Carvalho, and also showed in beating Michael Chandler for the lightweight title. It’s given the Brazilian an understandable confidence in his striking ability, and “Mercenary” feels it is often the crux of his prediction trash talk before fights.
However, last week during the promotion’s open workout and media day event “Pitbull” made a prediction for a second-round finish, but by submission and not knockout. It’s a small detail the young star feels is a tell for the mindset of his veteran opponent, just days before they finally clash inside The Forum in Los Angeles, California.
“My thing is, when has Patricio ever said he’s going to submit someone. It’s usually I’m going to kill you [or] I’m going to knock you out. So once again, I feel like I’m in his head,” McKee says. “He doesn’t know what to expect. He’s [reverting] to what he knows, his go-to, which is a guillotine. With that being said, whatever, that’s my bread and butter too, ya know. I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to go out there, have fun on my feet, pick him apart and we’ll see how things end up.”
AJ McKee’s Bellator 263 talk is over
McKee says his ability to pick, bug, and bother opponents is part of a strategy he has often used in winning his first 17 fights as a professional prizefighter. In the case of Freire, he believes the tactic has been a success, and with the July 31 bout close at hand the time for talking is over.
“That’s what’s kind of bothering [opponents] I think. I read that in Art of War, mental warfare is number-one in warfare. So if I can get in these guy’s heads, that’s the biggest part for me. And always picking and picking at them, then going cold-turkey quiet. Not saying a single word to them. It’s kind of messing with his head a little bit ya know? I used to mouth off when we’d get face-to-face; there’s nothing left to say. Now we’re going to let our hands and feet do the talking when we get in there.”
Bellator 263 will air exclusively on Showtime. The event kicks off at 7 pm ET with preliminary action and then is followed by the main card at 10 pm ET.