The decision to turn pro this year following a successful run in the amateur ranks is paying off for featherweight prospect AJ “Mercenary” McKee.
In two bouts in 2015, McKee has picked up first round finishes against Marcos Bonilla and James Barnes, quickly making a name for himself as someone to watch in Bellator.
“There has been a lot of growth this year,” McKee told MMAWeekly.com. “There have been a lot of things humbling, but building at the same time. It’s part of life and I’ve just got to stay focused and keep grinding.
“I’ve got targets now (as a pro). There are goals and people that I look forward to fighting and defeating in the near future. I have those goals now for myself and I’m not going to stop until I get to them.”
For McKee, developing in the amateur ranks has been a big part of his early success as a pro.
“You get used to being in the cage,” he said. “A lot of guys will go out there and let the adrenaline get to them and they’ll go 100 miles per hour, but by the time that second round happens, your adrenaline’s gone and you have nothing left.
“It’s about learning how to control yourself and going out there, being calm, and having fun out there.”
McKee (2-0) will have his third Bellator fight of the year when he takes on JT Donaldson (1-1) in a preliminary 145-pound bout on Friday in San Jose, Calif.
“I’ve watched his amateur fights from 2013, and he’s probably a completely different fighter now, as am I,” said McKee of Donaldson.
“I can’t really say what he’s going to do, so that drives me to work even more because he knows what he’s in for – what he’s stepping in front of – so it’s going to drive me to work harder and show up on fight day.”
Now that he’s established himself as an up-and-comer in the Bellator 145-pound division, McKee is focused on climbing the ranks and claiming his first pro MMA championship within a year’s time.
“My goal by the end of 2016, the start of 2017, is to have that belt around my waist,” said McKee. “I shoot for nothing but the stars.
“I want to have that undefeated record. I had one loss as an amateur, one loss wrestling in college, so I’ve taken that in, and I’m going to dedicate myself to nothing else and make my way to the top.”