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A.J. McKee: Darrion Caldwell isn’t ready for Bellator 253 ‘big boy league’ fight

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – A.J. McKee intends to show Darrion Caldwell that Thursday’s Bellator 253 headliner is a fight and not a wrestling match.

McKee (16-0 MMA, 16-0 BMMA) faces former champion Caldwell (15-3 MMA, 12-2 BMMA) in the semifinals of the Bellator featherweight grand prix. The winner advances to the final of the 16-man tournament, where he will challenge for the organization’s 145-pound belt with a $1 million prize on the line, as well.

It’s a high-level matchup, with McKee bringing in a perfect career record that includes a diverse range of wins against Caldwell’s grappling-heavy style. McKee said he knows exactly what his opponent is trying to bring on fight night, and he welcomes it.

“I’ll give you the takedown,” McKee told MMA Junkie on Tuesday. “Why? Because I’m confident in my jiu-jitsu, and I’m confident if I’m sitting on my back I’m going to slice your face open. I think he’s going to try to stay on his feet a little bit then, when he feels my power, he’s going to be like, ‘(Expletive), I need this takedown.’ Then when I stuff that takedown, that’s when panic mode starts to kick in. I’m going to make him fight. No one has made him fight. I’m going to stand right there and make him fight. There’s nowhere for you to run.”

Darrion Caldwell, left, and A.J. McKee at Bellator 238. (Photo courtesy of Bellator)

There’s been a lot of animosity between McKee and Caldwell leading into Bellator 253, which takes place at Mohegan Sun Arena with a main card on CBS Sports Network following prelims streamed on MMA Junkie. Nothing has crossed over into personal territory, though, and McKee said he’s largely engaged with Caldwell to keep fans and himself engaged.

The only thing personal about this fight, McKee said, is that Caldwell is trying to take something away from him. Because of that, McKee said the onus is on him to send a message to his counterpart.

“This is my division,” McKee said. “I’m going to send him back to the ’35-pound division. No hard feelings or nothing, but this is the big boy league, and I’m going to show him that I’m a big boy. … It’s nothing personal. We’ll see each other in the lobby, and he’ll growl like a wolf, and I’ll laugh. It’s fun and games. It’s partially entertainment, as well. We’ve got to make it entertaining for the fans. But for me, as long as there’s no disrespect, we’re good. Inside or outside the cage, we’re cool. But the second that disrespect happens, you’re going to have to bring the monster out of me that I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to deal with.”

McKee thinks his durability and conditioning is going to be a big key against Caldwell. He said he knows for certain he’s not going to fold anywhere over the course of 25 minutes.

“I’m a problem to deal with,” McKee said. “For anyone to say they’re going to step in that cage and fight five fives, it’s going to be a problem. I don’t think anyone can last five fives with my output. No one’s really made it past the third, and I honestly don’t see anyone making it past the third. So, Darrion Caldwell, he’s a great wrestler, but this is mixed martial arts, and I’ve always said that. You’ve got to have a mix of all the arts, and I feel I’ve mastered the mix of all the arts.”

If McKee is able to achieve victory, he would move on to the grand prix final against the winner of Patricio Freire vs. Emmanuel Sanchez. “Pitbull,” the reigning 145-pound champion, predicted that Caldwell will “smash” McKee.

McKee, who has been feuding with Freire, laughed off that notion and said he’ll be ready for whomever comes out the other side of the bracket.

“I’ll take either fight,” McKee said. “I’ll beat both (Freire and Sanchez’s) ass in my eyes. … He’s hoping someone can do a job he can’t do (by picking against me).”

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