It’s safe to say that outside of MMA’s premier promotion, not many have developed as much stardom and fanfare as McKee. The 27-year-old, who boasts an impressive and unblemished 18-0 record, shot further to fame last July when he held gold for the first time.
In the main event of Bellator 263, McKee faced Patrício Pitbull in the final of the featherweight Grand Prix. At the time, the Brazilian had maintained a firm grip on the 145-pound title since 2017 and was riding a seven-fight win streak.
In emphatic fashion, “Mercenary” dropped Pitbull early in the first round before finishing the 34-year-old with a standing guillotine choke. In doing so, he secured Grand Prix and championship glory, as well $1 million in prize money.
Since ascending Bellator’s 145-pound mountain, McKee has repeatedly expressed his belief that he is the best featherweight in the world. Recently, the 27-year-old suggested he’s not impressed with his UFC counterpart Alexander Volkanovski, claiming he’d be able to dispatch the Australian inside the cage.
And despite fighting under the Bellator banner, McKee has made no secret of his desire to make his way to the Octagon in the future, where he’ll have the chance to put his money where his mouth is, perhaps versus Volkanovski.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, McKee claimed that having UFC gold wrapped his waist is not only a dream of his, but also an inevitability.
“It’s always been a dream of mine and a goal of mine to own a UFC title, just as a kid. I grew up watching Rampage as a kid in the gym,” recalled McKee. “That was the first UFC belt I ever saw, like, hands-on saw. Honestly, to hold a UFC belt one day, it’s gonna happen, it’s inevitable. It’s an achievement and accolade that I’d love to have under my belt.”
McKee also pointed towards the entrance of former three-time Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler, who earned a UFC title shot with a sole knockout victory over Dan Hooker. “Mercenary” is targeting a similar welcome party when he crosses over to the Octagon.
“Maybe I get that Chandler red-carpet treatment. Come in, beat somebody in the top three up real quick, and then go straight into a title fight, beat Volkanovski up real quick, one time for the one time.”
Given his position as arguably Bellator’s biggest star, Scott Coker likely won’t enjoy hearing of McKee’s UFC dreams. But with the titleholder’s latest comments on faltering contractual negotiations, a departure from the promotion may not be too distant.
Stalled Bellator Negotiations Could Open The Door For UFC/McKee Link-Up
McKee is set to return to action to defend his title for the first time this Friday at Bellator 277. Sharing the cage with him and looking to add the first defeat to the Californian’s record at the second attempt will be Pitbull.
While McKee is targeting two-division success if he gets past his rival this week, all doesn’t seem to be well between Bellator and its leading man.
Speaking to Helwani, McKee described the failed attempts made by Bellator to tie him down to a new deal. Having won $1 million last year, “Mercenary” said he won’t be happy with anything less than that sum moving forward.
Given the offers and what he’s set to earn for his rematch with Pitbull, it’s safe to say that the number in McKee’s mind is pretty far from the money Bellator are putting up for him at the moment.
“I would say (my layoff has been because of) contracts, little bit trying to figure out some pay… No, (I haven’t re-signed with Bellator). There’s been nothing signed,” confirmed McKee. “So, currently, champion’s clause, I’ve got three fights (left)… They did (try to cut a deal). Myself, I’ve already fought previously for a million dollars. I feel I should never have to see anything under a million dollars again, especially with the achievements I accomplish. Every time I step into that cage, there’s a 0 on my record.
“For me to go backwards to anything under a million, I feel it’s not reasonable,” asserted McKee. “We were at like, 5(00,000), but it’s not appetizing to me… We’ll see. We’re getting 250(000 for this fight).”
When asked whether it’s possible he could exit the promotion after his next three fights and test the waters of free agency, McKee provided an answer that will have the ears of other promotional leaders perked.
“Possibly. If we can’t come up with the million dollars, then, yeah,” admitted McKee. “Also, that’s the thing, every time I fight, my number’s gonna double because I wanna be back-paid for the fights I haven’t been (getting a million). It’s business, bro.”
Before looking too far ahead, McKee will need to put his full focus on Pitbull. Beyond a potential victory on Friday, “Mercenary” is likely to make it a family affair by challenging for the lightweight crown of Patricky Pitbull.
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