A.J. McKee is no stranger to being surrounded by MMA fighters. His father, Antonio McKee, went 29-6 as a professional and is a pioneer of the sport. He also helped create Team Bodyshop, an MMA gym that brings in athletes from around the world to train at the highest level.
Now the athletes who sweat and struggle inside that gym every day are A.J. and his friends, like fellow Bellator standouts Joey Davis (4-0), Aaron Pico (3-1) and Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson (3-1). And for a trainer who has decried the lack of black leaders and mentors in mixed martial arts, Antonio McKee has stepped up to the task.
“We were looking up to (Antonio), watching him fight and watching all the great guys go through The Bodyshop,” said Pico, “and now for us to actually be those guys, training and fighting on TV is pretty cool, especially being kids from the neighborhood.”
Pico is only beginning his journey up the MMA ladder. A.J. (11-0) is already close to the top. Although a win over his original opponent, former champion Pat Curran, would have solidified A.J.’s shot at Patricio Pitbull’s bantamweight title, a win this Friday at Bellator 205 over John “Macapa” Teixeira could bring the same result.
“We talked about this as kids when we’d have barbecues at the house to watch the fights,” said Pico. “To see us finally be there and have his dad as the man in charge, leading the way is pretty cool.”
Despite the fact that A.J. is 23-years old and Pico just 21, they are no strangers to the grueling training found inside Team Bodyshop.
“A.J. and I have been really good friends since we were like 6, 7 years old,” said Pico, “I used to wrestle with him at The Bodyshop back in the day when his dad was coaching the youth wrestling program.”
That extensive training has paid dividends for all four fighters, who have taken a unique road to this point. Their 23 combined professional fights have all come inside the Bellator cage, for one of the top MMA organizations in the world.
“Putting yourself in those uncomfortable positions seems to be working out for us, so I’m just going to continue to do what I do best,” said Pico. “Having Joey Davis and Baby Slice, it’s quite a team that we have, and I think we’re going to do some great things for Bellator.”
If all their dreams come true, there stands one significant problem. Both A.J. and Pico fight at 145 pounds, and the Bellator bantamweight title only fits around one waist. But according to Pico, that fight is not in the cards.
“I’ve always said before… us stepping in the cage together will never happen.”
But how long until the fans demand it?