A.J. McKee loved everything about his first time fighting in “The Land of the Rising Sun.”
The former Bellator featherweight champion made the trip to Japan for his fight against Rizin FF lightweight champion Roberto de Souza in the main event of Saturday’s Rizin FF 40: Rizin vs. Bellator. It was a non-title bout that was part of a promotion vs. promotion event.
McKee (20-1) won the fight by unanimous decision after three rounds of fighting, completing a 5-0 sweep for Team Bellator. For McKee, fighting in Japan, a country with an extensive history in MMA, was an unforgettable experience.
“I’m just trying to embrace it all,” McKee told reporters at the post-fight press conference. “Being here and fighting in Japan for the fans here is a lifetime experience. They just appreciate the art of the sport so much more here. So it’s an honor to be here and put on a great show.”
McKee’s father and coach, Antonio, had competed in Japan in his younger days as an active fighter. He fought for K-1 and DREAM. In his last appearance in Japan, Antonio suffered a stoppage loss to Shinya Aoki.
McKee felt the need to leave the last name McKee victorious in Japan with this outing in Rizin FF.
“This place is phenomenal,” McKee said. “Fans are phenomenal, culture is phenomenal, it’s just an honor to be here, honestly. I’ve just heard so many stories and witnessed so many great fights here, so to finally be here and be a part of it.
“I had to redeem the last name McKee. The last time we were here, my father broke his orbital against Aoki. I just wanted to make sure to put on a great show for you guys.”
Apart from being the first time McKee fought overseas, it was also his first experience competing under a different MMA rule set. At Rizin fighters are allowed to head-stomp, and kick and knee downed opponents – something that’s illegal in the U.S..
McKee very much enjoyed the freedom that came with Rizin FF.
“Man, that was so fun,” McKee said. “I don’t know if that’s something I can do every fight, but it’s definitely something I enjoy a lot. I look forward to doing it again. Hopefully Rizin enjoyed the show, and they bring me back, and we can do it again for a title.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Rizin FF 40: Rizin vs. Bellator.