Tournaments have been an aspect of MMA, one form or another, since its inception.
The lineup of four, eight or 16 fighters in parentheses serves different entities for different purposes. For the fighters and fans, it is usually considered the most succinct method of determining the best athlete. Of course, injuries, evasive maneuvers, and questionable official business can tarnish these waters, but that’s mostly the truth.
However, with promotions, the goal is to create drama. Tournaments produce stars because no matter how the match-ups turn out, a man steps onto a grand podium and takes all the fame home with him.
AJ McKee was that man last night.
McKee was very likely fighting the most decorated fighter on Bellator’s roster and didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment. No, the 26-year-old featherweight made clever use of his range advantage, held back and nudged the champion with long kicks. After shooting the lower body for a few minutes, McKee promptly kicked Patricio Freire in the face.
A quick blow and a guillotine later choked, and the Brazilian fell asleep.
It was a spectacular result from “The Mercenary” in a tournament full of them. To win Bellator’s Featherweight Strap and the million dollar grand prize, McKee first knocked out Georgi Karakhanyan before submitting Derek Campos with an arm bar. A couple of incredible wins to be sure, but McKee upped the ante by landing a rare neck-crank submission to former Bellator Kingpin Darrion Caldwell!
Four grandiose victories in four cage rides – how can you contest AJ McKee as one of the best in the world? His first defense of the title is a must if you care a little about MMA beyond the UFC.
McKee’s win is also a win for Bellator. He is one of their games of chance, one of the fighters they signed on a significant contract in the genesis of his professional career. Bellator does this from time to time and offers relatively large amounts of cash to talented but untested athletes. Before McKee’s rise, the most notable example was Aaron Pico.
The tricky part of this strategy is that no set of wrestling references or connections in the fighting business guarantees success. Setbacks can occur in no time and can be downright demoralizing even for high-ranking prospects. Bellator is sure to lose money if multiple athletes try to grow someone like McKee themselves.
Somehow it never seems to work for Bellator. At their biggest events, every fight is driven to a decision, or a strange disqualification related to a nut kick hinders the show. A mess or mishap strangles a great night of action.
Last night was a win for AJ McKee, for promotion and for MMA overall. A touch of competition in MMA is a good thing, after all, and perhaps another couple of standouts like McKee could really change Bellator’s position in the grand scheme of martial arts.
For complete Bellator 263 Results and play-by-play, click HERE!