Bellator 136 took place in Irvine, California, on April 10, 2015. Outside of the main event, which featured Will Brooks outpointing Dave Jansen across five rounds to defend his Bellator MMA lightweight title, the show was a ho-hum affair, with six of the seven preliminary and main card bouts going to decision.
Though few could have known it at the time, the most significant Bellator 136 bout was tucked away in an untelevised postlim. Directly after the Brooks-Jansen title fight—and just three days after his 20th birthday—a young Californian by the name of A.J. McKee made his professional debut. The “Mercenary” was already a person of interest, both for his 7-1 amateur record and for being the son and protégé of longtime lightweight road warrior Antonio McKee.
The younger McKee kicked off his pro campaign in stellar fashion, choking out Marcos Bonilla in just over two minutes and launching the career of one of Bellator’s biggest stars and top homegrown talents. Five years later, McKee is undefeated at 16-0, ranked in Sherdog’s featherweight Top 15 and scheduled to face Darrion Caldwell in the semifinals of the Bellator featherweight grand prix once it resumes.
While McKee’s success might not be too surprising in light of his lineage, the way in which he has achieved that success has been an eye-opener. The elder McKee was infamous for a conservative fighting style that carried him to 21 decisions in 30 career wins. Meanwhile, his son is a breathtaking finisher who has notched seven first-round knockouts and already has more finishes than his father managed in a 36-fight career. He is also a flamboyant character and entertainer outside the cage, in contrast to his father’s somewhat cantankerous personality.
Polar opposites though they may be, the two McKees made history together in 2019, as they both won at Bellator 228, becoming the first father-son combo ever to do so in a major MMA promotion.