Bellator 197: “Chandler vs. Girtz” comes to Family Center Arena in St. Charles, Mo., on April 13, 2018, featuring a main event between former Lightweight champion “Iron” Michael Chandler (17-4) against hard-hitting fellow long-time Bellator veteran, Brandon Girtz (15-7).
Elsewhere on the Paramount Network-televised card, two of the promotion’s top-ranked Featherweights will clash as one seeks to vault ahead of the pack, while the other looks to solidify his place at the front of the line. Justin Lawrence (11-4) is coming off two straight wins, but has previously lost fights to Emmanuel Sanchez and John Teixeira, which could have earned him contender status. Meanwhile, the sensational A.J. McKee (10-0) keeps on rolling through the competition. Only 30 percent of McKee’s fights have gone to a decision, and with his third round rear-naked choke at Bellator 187, he’s also proven he can bounce back late in a contest to find yet another big finish.
The subject of “Notorious” Conor McGregor was an unavoidable topic with A.J. McKee given that there is unfinished business between McKee and his fellow undefeated, friend, James Gallagher. I asked McKee for his comments on McGregor’s antics in Brooklyn the same day this interview was recorded.
“It’s Conor, man! He’s a wild man, he’s a fighting Irish, he’s wild. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the Irish people — they’re wild. But, uhh, some of them back their shit up and some of them don’t. Some of them just like to talk. My previous fight, Brian Moore, he wasn’t a talker, but he came to fight. It was a good fight, fun fight, wish I would have trained more than three weeks for the fight but, HEY, I went in there and did what I had to do.”
McGregor’s antics at Bellator 187 also made headlines, although he wasn’t jumping in the cage a second time when Straight Blast Gym Ireland’s Moore got submitted. McKee promises that if the undefeated Gallagher wants some he can get some, too.
“Whatever!! That dude’s trash, too. He called me a pussy on national television, we’re supposed to fight, yet you’ve taken three (or) four different fights with other people and you still haven’t even attempted to fight me. You want to fight me, and then you pull out of a fight, and then you tell me you want to fight me, but you’re supposedly hurt. A week later you’re talking about you want a fight again. So are you hurt or do you want to fight? It’s a little girl drama. I think he’s scared to fight right now.”
Obviously, there’s no love lost between McKee and anybody at SBG, but the item on the docket at Bellator 197 says Justin Lawrence and not James Gallagher. McKee says he’s fully prepared for war.
“Man, Justin Lawrence is a great fighter. He’s a great opportunity for me to go out there and showcase my skills and really get a top-level contender. I feel like I haven’t fought anyone who’s on my level yet. I’ve kind of just been playing around and taking fights with mediocre guys who I can get away with training for (only) three weeks for a fight and winning, you know? Not really going into a fight prepared. Justin Lawrence isn’t someone that you can do that with. You’ve got to show up prepared, you’ve got to put in the full eight-week camp, and you’ve got to go out there and put on a show and bring the fight to him.”
Lawrence comes into Bellator 197 off back-to-back wins over Treston Thomison and Andrew Natividad. And he’ll also have the support of all the Missouri natives who’ve come to see their native son compete.
“That’s motivation! I’ve had haters motivate me my entire life. I came from nothing so what else are you supposed to do? You’re not supposed to make it if you’re coming from nothing so that’s just motivating me. When they sat there and sang their ‘ole ole ole’ (in Ireland) the whole time I laughed at them — and that thing was roaring loud. It was hilarious to me! So it’s motivation for me and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be fun and Justin Lawrence thanks for this opportunity. Thanks for making me train and preparing me to actually have to fight, you know?”
Even through all of McKee’s self-assured swagger you find a running thread of respect for Lawrence through his words. However, with current champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire that respect dwindles.
“I’m waiting for Pitbull. I told him! I got a leash and a kennel waiting for him. There’s a couple other things I want to accomplish (first) before then. My father’s still fighting so I’m looking forward to doing a father-son fight (card) and competing with my dad. No one’s competed as professional athletes together besides in baseball so for this to be such a hands-on sport I’m really looking forward to breaking more history and being able to do that with him. But, Pitbull, he knows he’s got it coming! 2018 he’s losing that belt. It’s going to be mine.”
Above all else, McKee promises that this will be the best version of him who we’ve ever seen.
“I don’t get tired, I never get tired unless I’m not training of course, and that kind of showed in my last fight. We still know I can dig deep and pull out a W even when I’m tired. That’s a good thing to know and training this full eight weeks, man, (I’m) going to be phenomenal. Nothing against Justin Lawrence, he’s a great fighter, (but) I haven’t taken a fight over 50 percent yet. The fight I fought at 50 percent was Mazzotta and look how that finished. Being 80-90 percent ready is fun, you know? It’s fun and I’m ready to go in there and see what I can actually accomplish and do with a full eight-week camp and feeling almost 100 percent.”
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Chandler vs. Girtz” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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