When A.J. McKee finished Patricio "Pitbull" Freire with a guillotine choke in under two minutes Saturday night in the main event of Bellator 263, the crowd at The Forum in Inglewood, California, came unglued. Some people tried to rush the cage like they were fans storming the field after a huge college football victory.
McKee, a native of Long Beach, had to feel like the home team in Inglewood this weekend, like he was a star player for the Lakers or Dodgers. He has the swagger, charisma and unbridled ability to become that level of star for Bellator. Maybe that was the height he reached Saturday night.
McKee is exactly what Bellator has been looking for since Scott Coker took the reins of the Viacom-owned promotion in 2014. McKee was one of Coker's first signings. He saw him as an amateur at an event promoted by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in Southern California. At the time, Coker hadn't even been hired by Bellator -- but he knew he had to sign McKee wherever he ended up. Coker landed at Bellator, and McKee has spent his entire pro career with the promotion -- he's 18-0 since 2015.
While Coker & Co. were waiting for someone like McKee -- a homegrown star -- to break through, they put on big fights involving former UFC superstars such as Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen, aging legends such as Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie, and backyard fighting YouTube phenoms such as Kimbo Slice. Those were just placeholders, something to get some ratings while Bellator was waiting for its young crop of talent to develop. McKee is the first big potential star from the Coker era. The superstar reaction McKee got Saturday could very well carry over across the MMA world now.
In the postfight news conference, Coker said pay-per-view could be a possibility for McKee fights in the future. So could CBS, Coker said. Right now, Bellator airs on Showtime in the United States. That's a premium channel, and McKee is surely a premium talent.
McKee is the star Bellator has been waiting for over the past seven years. And his time is now.
-- Marc Raimondi
Might be time to stop waiting on Uriah Hall's potential
Over the past eight years, we've talked a lot about Uriah Hall's potential: If he could just realize that potential, he might be unstoppable. Fair or not, that has been the narrative on Hall ever since he lost to Kelvin Gastelum as a favorite in "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2013.
Following his loss to Sean Strickland in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas, however, it's safe to say that narrative has run its course. Because whether or not we simply overstated his potential from the beginning, the hope of Hall unlocking a new level to his career is over. Hall was thoroughly dominated on Saturday. It took everything he had to just reach the finish line of that five-round contest.
And while Strickland deserves credit for the performance, and he did improve to 4-0 in the division, he is not a champion. He's not even in the top five.
When it came to Hall, we have long held on to this idea of him finding his killer instinct and challenging the elite of the elite. But coming off this performance, at age 37, it's virtually impossible to picture him ever becoming the guy we thought he might be. And that's OK. He has had a long, very successful UFC career. But it's probably time to stop talking about (and waiting) for that potential.
-- Brett Okamoto
Key stat: Burnell (16-3) has won three in a row in Bellator and seven straight overall. The 27-year-old Denmark native has not lost since a bout with Arnold Allen, a UFC featherweight contender. Burnell appears to be a top contender now in the Bellator featherweight division. Sanchez (20-6), a 30-year-old Milwaukee native, has dropped two straight following a three-fight winning streak. He has been a stalwart at 145 pounds in Bellator since 2014.
Key stat: Nurmagomedov is the 23-year-old cousin of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was in his cousin's corner. Usman Nurmagomedov (13-0), a Dagestan native, was making his Bellator debut. Usman won with a knee to the liver in a clinch that folded Muro up. Khabib-coached fighters went 3-0 at Bellator 263. Russian-born fighters went 5-0. Muro (12-7), a 34-year-old fighting out of Oklahoma, had won three straight.
Key stat: Mamedov (20-1-1) is undefeated in his past 20 pro fights, a streak that dates to 2009. UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov was in the 31-year-old Dagestan native's corner. Mamedov was making his Bellator debut. He was previously undefeated in World Series of Fighting and PFL. Primus (10-2), a 36-year-old Oregon native and former Bellator lightweight champion, had lost only one other time in his career, to former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, whom Primus also has a win over.
Key stat: Buys (6-2), who fights out of Las Vegas, rebounded from a loss in her UFC debut in March by landing a devastating head kick on de Paula (5-4) in the opening frame. Referee Mark Smith called the bout a TKO after Buys, who initially walked off following the kick, eventually followed the Brazilian to the ground and landed unanswered elbow strikes. It was the fourth-fastest finish in UFC strawweight history. Buys is now 5-1 in her past six.
Key stat: Yamauchi (26-5) has won seven of nine and remains one of the toughest outs in the Bellator lightweight division. The Japanese-born Brazil native crushed Gonzalez with a big right hand and then followed up with punches on the ground to win. Yamauchi, 28, has been in Bellator for eight years. Gonzalez (6-1), a 30-year-old prospect with elite wrestling technique fighting out of California's Team Alpha Male, was 5-0 in Bellator coming in.
Jared Gooden shuts Nik Stolze's lights out in Vegas
Jared Gooden knocks out Nik Stolze with a sensational punch at UFC Fight Night.
Key stat: Gooden (18-6), aka "NiteTrain," put Stolze to sleep with a vicious right hand on the feet. It is Gooden's fourth career finish inside the first round. Stolze (12-5), of Germany, drops to 0-2 in the UFC. He had never been finished in a professional fight prior to Saturday. At 68 seconds, it's the second-quickest KO/TKO at welterweight this year, behind Matthew Semelsberger's 16-second KO of Jason Witt.
Melsik Baghdasaryan impresses in UFC debut with amazing head-kick KO
Melsik Baghdasaryan just needs one kick to the head of Collin Anglin as he wins in his UFC debut.
Key stat: Baghdasaryan (6-1), of Armenia, finished the fight with a high left head kick. He earns a win -- and a highlight -- in his UFC debut, and he extends his win streak to six. He is undefeated since losing his professional debut in 2014. Anglin, who fights out of Michigan, sees a seven-fight win streak snapped.
Key stat: Porto (23-9) is the former Invicta FC women's flyweight champion. The 37-year-old Brazilian has won five of six and is likely now a top contender for the Bellator women's 125-pound belt. Joanne (9-6), a 27-year-old Brazilian, has dropped two straight following a three-fight winning streak.
Key stat: Witt (19-7), of Kansas City, Missouri, survived a nightmarish third round to secure his second win in the UFC. As a +210 underdog at Caesars by William Hill, he became the sixth consecutive underdog of the night to avoid a loss. He also landed eight takedowns over the course of 15 minutes. Fighters to land at least eight takedowns in a UFC fight have a record of 103-10-1. Barberena (15-8), of California, has lost three of his past four.
@TeamKhabib is such a legend, his fighter just knocked a guy into convulsions and while the team was celebrating the win. Khabib went over to help the paramedics tend to the opponent. #Respect #Bellator263— Corey 'Overtime' Anderson (@CoreyA_MMA) August 1, 2021
Key stat: Rabadanov (16-4-2) dropped Carey with a huge left hook and then finished on the ground. Carey was on the ground for some time after the finish and taken out on a stretcher for precautionary reasons. UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was in Rabadanov's corner, helped tend to Carey on the ground. Rabadanov, a PFL veteran, has just one loss in his past 10 fights. Carey (7-5) has dropped two in a row and three of four.
Key stat: Gruetzemacher (15-4), who fights out of American Top Team in Florida, picks up his second win in three fights and cashes as the biggest underdog on the card at +260. He was +420 to win by decision at Caesars by William Hill. Garcia (12-1), of Mexico, signed with the UFC this year as an undefeated fighter, but he is now 0-2 in two UFC appearances.
Key stat: Magomedsharipov, the 20-year-old, blue-chip prospect brother of UFC featherweight star Zabit, was making his United States and Bellator debut. He moves to 6-0. Magomedsharipov trains with his brother out of coach Mark Henry's camp in New Jersey. Quiroz (3-5), a 34-year-old Mexico native fighting out of California, has lost two straight and four of five.
Key stat: Kamaka (8-4-1) would have won the bout were it not for a point deduction in the second round for an accidental low blow. It is the third draw in UFC competition in 2021. Chavez is now winless in his past two fights, while Kamaka is winless in his past three.
Key stat: Jones (11-5), a 31-year-old veteran of the Southern California regional scene, has won two straight. The 41-year-old Cisneros (13-8), a popular fighter in the area who got a big reaction from the crowd, has dropped two of three.
Key stat: Frey (11-6), a former Invicta FC champion, evens her UFC record to 2-2 and does so as a +140 underdog at Caesars William Hill. Yoder (8-8, 3-7 UFC) has now lost four of her past five, and her seven career losses as a UFC strawweight are tied for third most in the division's history.
Key stat: Karakhanyan (31-11-1), a 36-year-old Russia native fighting out of California, has won two straight and three of his past four. The 31-year-old Crosbie (8-3), an Ireland native, has dropped two straight following a two-fight winning streak. Crosbie fights out of SBG Ireland, the home of Conor McGregor, and had McGregor coach John Kavanagh and Bellator star James Gallagher in his corner.
Key stat: Moore, a 33-year-old teammate of Conor McGregor at SBG Ireland, won his third straight Bellator bout. Winski, a 32-year-old fighting out of Dan Henderson's gym in California, had a two-fight winning streak snapped in his Bellator debut.
Great game plan by Adashev because if he didn't take that calf out I see Benoit getting a TKO. Adashev has some nice footwork. He mad Benoit chase him around and Benoit did it on a compromised leg. Great fight! #UFCVegas33— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) July 31, 2021
Key stat: Adashev snaps a 2-fight losing streak. Adashev joins Makhmud Muradov as the only fighters representing Uzbekistan to win in the UFC. Benoit drops his third straight fight.
Key stat: Rowe has finishes in all eight of his wins and has won eight of nine. Rowe cashes as a +145 underdog at Caesars by William Hill. He was +550 to win by KO/TKO/DQ.