New Bellator featherweight champion AJ McKee is a fast-rising superstar in the industry. And after getting two belts and a million-dollar check after winning the featherweight Grand Prix, his father feels the young champion is in a new pay bracket and deserves a new contract that matches it.
One of the more pernicious parts of many mixed martial arts contracts is the “champion’s clause.” It exists in Ultimate Fighting Championship accords, as well as in Bellator. In the case of McKee, the 26-year-old and his father explained in an interview on The MMA Hour that he now owes the promotion three more fights after winning the 145-pound title from Patricio Freire last month. Furthermore, if he can’t make a date for a fight Bellator offers, they have the right to extend his deal further.
It is all the more frustrating because the money he makes in future bouts as a champion will pale in comparison to what he earned to win the title. Not to mention, if he didn’t win the gold at Bellator 263, he would have been a free agent and able to take offers from any and all promotions by September.
AJ McKee contract negotiations are all about fair value for the champ
All of this is why McKee’s representation at CAA is currently in negotiations to adjust his current contract to make it commensurate with his status as a champion, and the promotion’s top-ranked pound-for-pound talent. Antonio — McKee’s father and coach — feels at this juncture it all boils down to Bellator paying his son what he deserves to better his life, or allowing him to make that money somewhere else.
“The way I look at it is, either you make this kid happy, or you let him fight out his three deals and you let him go,” McKee said. “UFC picks him up. Now, that’s another monster that we’ve got to deal with. But I know what he’s capable of. Here’s a real Conor McGregor, it’s just he’s got to figure out what lane he wants to be labeled as a fighter.”
“… A.J. should be able to go fight in the UFC for $5 million if Bellator’s only going to give him $1 million. Why shouldn’t he be able to go get more money to take care of his family and do his job. Why would you want to work for someone and know you can go across the street, and there’s no harm done, and you can get a better job to have a better life? That’s what we’re in this for, and at the end of the day, he’s a corporation the way I look at it.”
AJ’s father Antonio knows about the ‘nasty’ side of fighter contracts
After a 15 year career in the sport, the elder McKee has seen the ugly side of the fighter pay situation in MMA. Even at the highest levels of the industry promotions like the UFC still pay fighters a small percentage of revenue. Compared to the NBA, MLB, and NFL, where revenue is split evenly between organizations and players. It’s part of why he has stepped away from being as involved in the negotiations, but will always look out for his gifted son’s best interests.
“I don’t know if I’m going to stay out of it, but I believe CAA works for AJ. They work for the McKee group. They’re employed by us to do a job. I’m going to hold them responsible for the job they do, based on what we want to be done. That’s the right way to do this. That’s why I don’t understand why everyone’s always heckling me and upset,” McKee said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t go to Harvard and come back with a master’s degree in vocabulary. I understand the game. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve seen the contracts. This is an ugly game. It’s ugly and nasty and you know it. And I love my son more than I love life sometimes, so I want the best for him just like any other father. So why is it a problem that I speak so passionately about the sport doing right by my son?”
Who do you want to see AJ McKee fight next inside the Bellator cage?