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Scott Coker: Bellator 253’s A.J. McKee ‘a perfect example’ of our talent identification prowess

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – In 2014, Scott Coker walked into a California-based community center to visit former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Coker, who was not the Bellator president at the time, was introduced to a teenage kid who had just won an amateur championship at an event Jackson had a role in promoting. It was A.J. McKee, his future headliner.

“I look at this kid who was 17 years old at the time or he might have just turned 18 – maybe 19,” Coker told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “He was very young. I go, ‘This kid has got it. He’s got the looks. He’s got the build. He can fight. He’s got a little swagger about him. He’s got a little cockiness about him. I knew that he was Antonio (McKee)’s son and I knew he came from a good lineage of fighting and wrestling community and fights. They can do it all.”

Coker, along with matchmakers Rich Chou and Mike Kogan, has taken a different approach to building talent than competitors. While Bellator onboards regional champions who prove their worth, the promotion is also open to cultivating talent from the ground up – fighters with zero professional fights. McKee (16-0 MMA, 16-0 BMMA) is perhaps their most high-profile example.

“Once he decided to come and become a full-time fighter, I knew he would have all the resources to become great,” Coker said. “That’s probably the first guy we brought in who’s really graduated to this point. When we talk about buying free agents and building from the ground up, A.J. is a perfect example of what we’re doing here.”

McKee returns to action Thursday when he takes on former Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell (14-3 MMA, 11-2 BMMA) in the semifinals of the promotion’s featherweight grand prix. The fight serves as the main event of Bellator 253 at Mohegan Sun Arena. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network after prelims on MMA Junkie.

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