Each day as he travels from his two-bedroom apartment toward the gym where he trains in mixed martial arts, unbeaten Bellator fighter A.J. McKee sizes up his dream house on the grounds of the Long Beach Country Club.
“There’s this all-wood house built in the ’60s, sitting on about 2 ½ acres. It’s the most beautiful home,” McKee, 24, said. “I’d get a membership and start golfing.”
McKee’s vision requires winning a string of fights, and the mission takes him to Rosemont, Ill., for Bellator 221 on Saturday night, when he meets former two-time champion Pat Curran (23-7) on a card headlined by the meeting of lightweight champion Michael Chandler versus featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Friere.
“I’m looking to sustain a lifestyle for my family. I want to buy my dad a house so my little brother can have his own room. There’s things that people don’t see on the back end of my life that motivate me. That’s a whole different fuel to my fire,” McKee said.
McKee’s father is retired MMA veteran Antonio McKee, who went unbeaten for nearly eight years before reaching the UFC.
Antonio McKee now runs a gym in Lakewood, BodyShop Fitness, where his son trains alongside Bellator’s elite prospect Aaron Pico, unbeaten welterweight Joey Davis and Kimbo Slice’s son, Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson.
“The only reason I do this is for my father,” A.J. McKee said. “He never got the recognition and respect he deserved in his career, because it’s a sport and it’s politics at the same time. He might not have been the most entertaining fighter … but at the end of the day, he was [long] undefeated and no one can take that away from him.
“That’s where I come in to play. This is my time now, my time to shine, and I’ll make sure the last name McKee gets all the recognition it deserves.”
McKee’s undertaking starts Saturday against Curran, 31, as part of a card streamed on DAZN starting at 6 p.m. PDT.
“Pat Curran is really good at reading movement, so if you’re a fighter who has habits or patterns, he’ll capitalize on that,” McKee said. “I’m very sporadic, unorthodox, all over the place — so I’m going to be throwing different things from different angles and I expect that to work to my advantage.
“It’ll be a good stylistic test against a two-time champion and I look forward to trying to do something no one else has done. None of the champions have finished Pat. So if I can, that’s a big statement in the world of MMA.”
While Bellator President Scott Coker will place McKee in a 16-fighter featherweight tournament this year, McKee (13-0) is hopeful that by beating Curran, he’ll earn an immediate title shot at Pitbull Friere.
“I want Pitbull next. … It’s a fight that’s been built for three years. Let me [beat him] once and let him try to get his revenge in the tournament,” McKee said. “My main focus is still that belt. The Grand Prix is great — $1 million is a great prize — but my focus has always been the belt, whether it comes in the Grand Prix or not.”
The readiness is rooted, McKee says, in the bond with his Southland stablemates. Having long aspired to become “the Floyd Mayweather of MMA,” he admits his work ethic needed to catch up to his confidence.
“As you get older, you start to mature. I have some positive examples around and with me having these skills, I’ve wondered, ‘What can I possibly be if I really buckled down for three years like that instead of dibbling and dabbling in and out?’” McKee said.
“It’s been an eye-opener for me, and it’s got me on the path I need to be. … There’s a brotherhood. We all sweat, fight and bleed together and if we’ve got a [disagreement], scrap it out.”
The effort is aimed at freeing McKee’s mind as he shoulders his father’s unfinished legacy and the thought of one day kicking up his heels inside the country club.
“I’m working as hard as I can so I can become content. When I get content, that will be no longer stressing about having to do this and needing to get all this done,” he said.