Derek Campos made a bold pick in the Bellator featherweight grand prix lottery Saturday night.
Campos had the No. 5 pick, and the first four fighters – A.J. McKee, Adam Borics, Daniel Weichel, and Darrion Caldwell – all picked different dates, meaning Campos could choose to fight any one of the four.
He went with McKee, who scored a ridiculous eight-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan at Bellator 228 about an hour before the selection process. There is a lot of hype behind McKee’s name, for good reason: he is a young, undefeated contender with a lot of momentum.
“The Stallion” isn’t afraid, though. He just wants to scrap.
“He’s a cool guy, and I know he’s going to bring it,” Campos said at the Bellator 228 post-fight press conference in Inglewood, California, when asked about his thought process in choosing to fight McKee. “We’re going to put on a show.
“He’s explosive, he’s dynamic, and me, I’m gritty as sh-t. … It’s going to be a war. I’m going to take him to deep water and test him. I’m not gonna run my mouth; I’m gonna let my hands and my body do the talking.”
Last year, when McKee and Campos fought on the same card in Hawaii, the two fighters actually had a conversation about possibly fighting each other one day.
“He was super respectful,” McKee said. “Honestly, he was just like, ‘Man, I think you’re one of the best, I’d love to fight with you one day. It’d be an honor.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, let’s do it one day.’ Here we are a year later, he got what he wanted.”
Campos had the choice to fight in any of the four months during which the quarterfinal bouts will take place. When thinking it over during the selection process, Campos saw no reason to go any later than December.
“I wanted to get back to work,” Campos said. “I wanted to get in there, set the bar again – and December was there. A.J. was the kind of opponent I like – a test. I’m hungry, that’s all it is. I didn’t want to hesitate or delay anything – I don’t want to fight in January, or February, or March, I’m ready to go to work and be disciplined through the holidays and get ready to fight a war. That’s it. Rocky 4, baby, all the way.”
McKee’s knockout of Karakhanyan was extra special because it came just hours after his 49-year-old dad Antonio returned to the cage after a five-year layoff and picked up a TKO victory. A.J. and Antonio were the first father-and-son duo to fight on the same card in the U.S., and they upped the ante by both winning.
To add to the uniqueness of the situation, A.J. and Antonio cornered each other, too.
“It was awesome,” McKee said of his dad’s win. “If you guys could see the footage of me cornering him, there’s gonna be a lot of bleeping in there. But it was surreal. It was a fun night. Great way to start off the tournament I feel. He set the tone for me, showed me you got a job to do.”
As the opening round wrapped up, it became evident that there already is and will be lots of drama between fighters in the Bellator featherweight grand prix. But for McKee and Campos, it’s simply about respect and going out there and putting on a show for the fans.
“He’s a warrior, I’m a warrior,” McKee said.
“Outside the cage, we keep it professional,” Campos added. “He’s a cool guy. But when we get in there, it’s all business. We’ll go in there and try and take each other’s heads off. And then afterward, sh-t, I’ll buy him a beer.”