McKee stops Pitbull to claim Bellator title in grand prix final
Nearly two years after it kicked off, the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix has come to an end.
AJ McKee defeated Patricio "Pitbull" Freire in the highly anticipated final, winning by technical submission at the 1:57 mark of the first round in the Bellator 263 main event Saturday in Los Angeles.
The 26-year-old captured the featherweight title, the 145-pound grand prix belt, and the $1-million grand prize with his stunning victory.
Freire entered Saturday's bout as a two-division champion. He still holds the lightweight belt.
McKee rocked Freire with a head kick after a feeling-out process during the first minute-and-a-half. He followed up with a barrage of strikes, dropping his opponent before sinking in a standing guillotine and choking Freire out.
McKee briefly retreated when he dropped Freire, saying afterward he did so because he thought the Brazilian was knocked out and referee Mike Beltran would wave off the fight.
"I thought he was done," McKee said in his postfight interview. "I looked at him, and then I was just like, 'Man, well, let's get on him again.' Like they say, protect yourself at all times, and you have to stay on him until the ref stops it."
Once he secured the guillotine, McKee said he knew the fight would be over in a matter of seconds.
"I felt him go limp a little bit, so that's what kind of gave me it," McKee said. "I knew he was already rocked, so I felt him buckle a little bit, and I was like, 'Alright, that's it.'"
McKee improved to 18-0 as a professional mixed martial artist and cemented himself as one of the top featherweights in the world by beating Freire, the most accomplished fighter in Bellator history.
"The Mercenary" is a true homegrown talent - all 18 of his pro bouts have taken place under the Bellator banner since his debut in 2015. Bellator president Scott Coker said afterward he thinks McKee became a "big star" Saturday.
The Forum, which hosted the event and had thousands of fans in attendance, erupted after the Long Beach, California, native won.
McKee said ahead of Saturday's contest that he wanted to challenge "Pitbull" for the 155-pound title and attempt to become a two-division champion should he capture the 145-pound crown.
He also said he likely won't fight at featherweight again, presumably due to the difficult weight cut.
McKee beat Georgi Karakhanyan, Derek Campos, and Darrion Caldwell over 2019 and 2020 en route to the tournament final, while Freire successfully defended his title against Juan Archuleta, Pedro Carvalho, and Emmanuel Sanchez.
Freire, a two-time Bellator featherweight champion, dropped to 32-5 and saw his seven-fight winning streak end.