Hi Uncle Dana: AJ McKee on historic hopes for eventual free agency

May 11, 2019; Rosemont, IL, USA; A.J. McKee (red gloves) defeats Pat Curran (blue gloves) during Bellator 221 at Allstate Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Starting a mixed martial arts career unbeaten over 17 fights is sure to instill a great deal of confidence. However, for someone like Bellator featherweight AJ McKee, confidence was never lacking. It’s the source of the grand plans he has for his future. Those plans include winning the promotion’s 145-pound grand prix, and the division’s championship on the same night. After that, the 25-year-old envisions eventually testing his value on the open market and being in a position to make MMA free-agent history.  

McKee on free agency: “Clearly I can’t talk to Uncle Dana [White]. Hi Uncle”

“I’ve never tested free agency. I’ve never gotten to see what my value is worth,” McKee told MixedMartialArts.com. “Obviously, if I don’t like the numbers [from Bellator], that would be the next step. I’m definitely trying to weigh my options and see where to go. Even with another year, 26 about to be 27, I’m peak of my time. I think being the Floyd Mayweather of MMA, to re-negotiate and test free agency. I think it should be one of the biggest contracts around. It should be some s*** to show this is a sport. We’re going to show this is how to take care of fighters.”

That doesn’t mean “Mercenary” will get to survey his free-agent market in the near future. Especially, if he is victorious against either Patricio Freire or Emmanuel Sanchez in the finals of the featherweight grand prix. Winning the tournament also means winning the division’s title. With champion status comes a contractual clause that would automatically add three more fights to his deal.

For a competitor as gifted as McKee, conversations of an eventual jump to the Ultimate Fighting Championship have become more common. He realizes the Las Vegas-based promotion is a destination for most fighters and is viewed as “the mecca” of the sport. He also understands as a professional employed by a rival promotion that there isn’t much he can say on the subject. It’s a bridge to cross if his deal is automatically extended. However, he does feel that a possible extension would certainly call for a pay raise.

“Clearly I can’t talk to Uncle Dana [White]. Hi Uncle, you know I love you from afar,” McKee said with a laugh. “It is what it is. Once I win the belt, I have another three fights. It extends my contract another three fights. After that, I don’t know. We’re going to have to sit down and do some talking. Eighteen and [zero], just ran through the tournament, made a million dollars, still undefeated, I don’t feel there’s any need to go back under a million dollars. I just made a million dollars, why would I take a paycheck going back?”

McKee on his future: “I don’t know, I’m just going to keep running through people”

McKee will enter into the tournament finals following a career-defining victory over Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253. The Team Bodyshop talent submitted the former two-time bantamweight champion in a little over a minute, birthed the term “McKee-otine” into the MMA lexicon, and put the featherweight division around the industry on notice. Yet, McKee admits a chip remains on his shoulder, and he feels he’ll always have doubters to shut up.

“At this point, I just have more to prove. It’s nice to get the recognition. I appreciate everybody for it, but now it’s becoming like I have something personal to prove,” says McKee. “The first fight with Pat [Curran]? Oh, well Pat’s old. He hasn’t fought. He’s washed up. Okay cool, then you go knock Georgi [Karakhanyan] out in eight seconds. Oh, Georgi’s old, he’s on his way out. Okay cool. Derek Campos is f***ing just a gritty beast, and that was just a brutal dog war for what, 11 minutes? I don’t know, I’m just going to keep running through people. Whatever. Let them doubt. There’s always going to be something wrong with a person. But that’s what makes fights. Styles make fights. I honestly enjoy surprising people.”

The Long Beach, California native likely has many more surprises and highlights to come.

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