For the first time, A.J. McKee gave himself a full eight-week training camp to prepare for Justin Lawrence, his opponent at Bellator 197 this Friday.
His longest previous camp was four weeks, which he held for Dominic Mazzotta. McKee is a perfect 10-0 with all of his wins coming under the Bellator MMA banner. He admitted that he’s never “taken a fight over 50 percent,” and that he’d been playing around with his previous competition. That is about to change, however.
“There’s no short-cutting with Justin Lawrence,” McKee told MMASucka. “I’ve been putting in the work. I’m going out there to put on a show and knock his head off his shoulders.”
McKee is relishing the opportunity of fighting an opponent who he considers a top-5 or top-10 Bellator featherweight. He said Lawrence is “most definitely” his stiffest challenge yet.
“He’s a seasoned fighter with good cage awareness, fight IQ, and he’s been in the game for such a long time,” McKee said. “He knows things most young fighters don’t catch on to.”
The 23-year-old acknowledged that his new training camp outlook is a result of maturity, as well as overcoming adversity in his last bout. He said he felt phenomenal against Brian Moore at Bellator 187 in the first round before an adrenaline dump. McKee said he managed to “bring out the lion in him” to dig deep and get a third round submission. But he doesn’t intend to gas again, especially against Lawrence.
“With being in shape and training the full eight weeks, I don’t think Justin Lawrence will be able to handle my pressure,” McKee said.
Speaking of handling pressure, McKee has handled any stress that comes with being an undefeated fighter in a major promotion with aplomb. He’s accomplished a lot for just age 23: 10-0 with the longest winning streak in the company’s history.
The “Mercenary” set the bar high with two goals for himself. Those are to become a two-weight champion and remain undefeated while doing so. How has he handled not being overcome by the stress keeping the ‘0’ on his record?
“If you’re worried about losing, then you’re not prepared,” he said. “You should be worried about winning. It’s just a different mindset, a different mentality.”
McKee said the only time he’ll feel pressure is if a title shot comes while he’s still undefeated. He’d have two goals on his mind in that scenario, though. A scenario he feels will come sooner rather than later.
McKee predicts it will be three fights max until he gets a crack at the Bellator featherweight title currently held by Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. He hopes with two consecutive knockouts, he can bypass a third fight.
Beef with James Gallagher
If McKee gets by Lawrence, he plans to move full steam ahead to his next challenge. He said he would gladly take a “step back” if it meant fighting James Gallagher. The two have exchanged heated words but have never gotten the chance to fight.
Gallagher told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani that the “ball is in McKee’s court” after he called him out for Bellator 200 on May 25.
McKee said he’ll sign the contract if it’s presented to him, and then he’ll gladly fight Gallagher after Lawrence.
“I’m going to train hard just to make him feel 10x more humiliated by whooping his ass on national TV,” McKee said. “[Gallagher] is a pussy. That dude’s a bitch. He called me a pussy on national television, and then he took a fight with three different guys. That’s the most pussy shit I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
He told Gallagher to talk to him when he’s ready, and until then, to “stay out of his face.”
“That’s a fight where I’m not even going to punch him,” McKee said. “I’m going to slap him just to let him know who Daddy is.”
Before he can officially turn his attention to Gallagher, McKee has business to take care of in the form of Lawrence. He predicts he’ll extend his streak to 11 by putting Lawrence “on his ass” in the second round.