Bellator 263: AJ McKee submits Pitbull to win $1 million title fight

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, knees Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, has his arm raised after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, is choked-out by AJ McKee blue gloves, in the first round during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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INGLEWOOD — A.J. McKee’s call-out finally came home.

The undefeated Long Beach star’s crusade, which started with his professional MMA and Bellator debut in 2016 when he dared to invoke the name of featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull, has been more than six years in the making.

On Saturday night at The Forum, McKee won the $1 million Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix with a technical submission via standing guillotine choke of Pitbull in the first round to claim the belt and establish his superstar status in the sport.

After the pair largely squared off with little action to start the fight, McKee stunned the champion with a left head kick and dropped him with punches against the cage.

The 26-year-old phenom began to prematurely celebrate before Pitbull began to rise. McKee then pounced and locked in a standing guillotine choke, torqueing with all his might before Pitbull began to fade. Referee Mike Beltran jumped in at 1:57 to kick off a wild celebration in front of the partisan crowd.

Pitbull (32-5) hadn’t lost in five years, winning all seven title fights before Saturday – twice dethroning a champion and five times successfully defending his featherweight title.

McKee (18-0) kicked off his professional MMA career more than six years ago, having just turned 20 and collecting a victory via submission at Bren Events Center in Irvine and calling out Pitbull, who was seven months into his first featherweight title reign.

Pitbull and McKee both started their journeys in the grand prix at Bellator 228 in September 2019 at The Forum — Pitbull dominating top contender Juan Archuleta in a unanimous decision after McKee recorded a highlight-reel 8-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan

Three months later against Derek Campos, McKee grinded out a third-round submission win despite tearing his lateral collateral ligament in his left knee at Bellator 236 in December 2019. And in November, he advanced to the final by forcing a tapout via a neck crank/guillotine choke of former Bellator bantamweight champion and NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253 in November.

Pitbull, 34, had been regarded by some as the top 145-pounder in the world. The two-time Bellator featherweight champion also boasts the organization’s lightweight title after his first-round knockout of Michael Chandler at Bellator 221 in May 2019, joining Ryan Bader and Joe Warren as the only double champions in Bellator history.

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UFC 257: Dustin Poirier knocks out Conor McGregor in 2nd round

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, Dustin Poirier reacts after his knockout victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Joanne Calderwood of Scotland punches Jessica Eye in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Michael Chandler punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amanda Ribas of Brazil punches Marina Rodriguez of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Andrew Sanchez punches Makhmud Muradov of Uzbekistan in a middleweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Khalil Rountree kicks Marcin Prachnio of Poland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Sara McMann punches Julianna Pena in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amir Albazi of Iraq punches Zhalgas Zhumagulov of Kazakhstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round Sunday (late Saturday night PST), avenging his loss to the Irish superstar with a knockout victory at UFC 257.

Poirier (26-7) caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head before buckling his knees with two left hands. Poirier then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished it swiftly, setting off stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed inside the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.

In his first fight in a year, McGregor (22-5) had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career.

McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016.

“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who hadn’t fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here. I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do. … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.”

McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success. McGregor became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights.

With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier didn’t miss.

Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round. In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended it.

In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a violent knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round.

Chandler could be the next matchup for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by long-reigning 155-pound champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall.

UFC President Dana White so far has been unable to persuade Nurmagomedov to go back on his vow to his mother to quit the sport after his father’s death, not even for a wildly lucrative rematch with McGregor, who repeatedly vowed to fight on after this loss to Poirier.

McGregor has not fought regularly in recent years, but his popularity was undiminished: UFC 257 is expected to be one of the most popular pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history, according to White, and distribution problems in the U.S. early in the PPV portion of the card led fans to bombard social media and ESPN with complaints.

Chandler’s long-anticipated UFC arrival was worth the wait for his 27th professional fight in a career that began in 2009.

After a deliberate start, Chandler (22-5) jabbed to the body as he lunged forward and caught Hooker with a left hand to the face that crumpled his opponent. Chandler finished a dazed Hooker with punches on the ground before climbing atop the cage and doing a full standing backflip into the octagon from atop the fence.

And Chandler was still fired up in his post-fight interview, calling the bout “the greatest moment of my professional life.”

“Conor McGregor! Surprise, surprise, there’s a new king in the lightweight division,” Chandler added. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib, if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC octagon in your quest for 30 (victories), you know you’ve got to beat somebody, so beat me — if you can!”

Marina Rodriguez opened the pay-per-view portion of UFC 257 by upsetting fellow Brazilian strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Rodriguez got a second-round stoppage with a flurry of punches and a knee in the opening minute.

UFC 257 concluded a run of three shows in eight days with a few thousand fans allowed inside the promotion’s coronavirus bubble in the Middle East. The promotion hadn’t held shows with fans since before the pandemic began last March.

The UFC returns to Las Vegas in two weeks for another run of shows at the fan-free Apex gym on its corporate campus.

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UFC 240: Max Holloway retains featherweight title; Cris Cyborg dominates

  • Max Holloway, left, fights Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway is hit by Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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  • Max Holloway, left, and Frankie Edgar connect on each other during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway punches Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway, right, punches Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway, left, blocks a kick from Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Max Holloway celebrates the win over Frankie Edgar during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg celebrates the win over Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, is punched by Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, punches Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Geoff Neal gets on top of Niko Price during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Cris Cyborg, left, hits Felicia Spencer during a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 240, in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

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EDMONTON, Alberta — Reigning featherweight champ Max Holloway defended his belt Saturday, overwhelming former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar at UFC 240.

Holloway (21-4-0) won a unanimous five-round decision.

The 27-year-old Hawaiian kept Edgar at a distance throughout the fight, stinging him with jabs and uppercuts in the first round and bloodying his nose in the second.

Holloway resisted all but one attempt by Edgar (22-7-1) to take him down, and said he was proud to be able to go the distance.

“Everybody said I wouldn’t be able to stay with this pace. I wanted to be able to stay for five rounds,” Holloway said.

Holloway has never lost in the featherweight category. He was coming off a lightweight division loss to Dustin Poirier in April, his first loss in five years.

It was one of two headline fights.

In the other headline bout, Brazilian MMA legend Cris Cyborg pummeled Montreal’s Felicia Spencer with punches, leg kicks and knee shots to win a unanimous decision.

Cyborg (21-2, 1 NC), with blood spilling down her face from taking an elbow in the first round, pounded Spencer and deflected multiple attacks to put her in a clinch or take her down in the women’s featherweight fight.

Spencer (7-1) had the crowd cheering as she withstood the assault and launched a few counterstrikes, her white shirt stained red with Cyborg’s blood.

“I trained really hard. Thanks to Felicia for giving me my first cut. I’m happy. I just want to come back and do my job. Thank you, God. I feel very blessed to be here,” Cyborg said.

The 34-yar-old Cyborg is trying to rebuild her brand after coming off a loss to Amanda Nunes in a featherweight championship fight in December, Cyborg’s first defeat in 13 years.

This was the last fight on her UFC contract.

In other bouts, American welterweights Geoff Neal and Niko Price put on a back-and-forth brawl that had the crowd cheering. Neal won a TKO when he pinned Price to the canvas in the middle of the second round and pounded him until Price’s arms went limp.

Marc-Andre Barriault (11-3) lost a split decision to Poland’s Krzysztof Jotko in a middleweight bout, and Olivier Aubin-Mercier (12-5) lost a unanimous-decision to 22-year-old Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia in a lightweight fight.

Gavin Tucker won by submission over South Korean striker Seungwoo Choi in the third round of their featherweight fight.

It was the first MMA fight for Tucker (11-1) since UFC 215 in Edmonton almost two years ago, when he was beaten so badly by Rick Glenn he was hospitalized with a fractured jaw and broken bones to his face.

Gillian Robertson (7-3 in MMA) defeated Brazil’s Sarah Frota in a women’s flyweight fight.

In a featherweight fight, Hakeem Dawodu dominated Japanese fighter Yoshniori Hori, ending in a third round TKO at 4:09. Alexis Davis lost a unanimous women’s flyweight decision to Brazil’s Viviane Araujo.

In a spirited flyweight battle of Brazilians, Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo stayed on their feet for three rounds, trading flurries of jabs and uppercuts that left Pantoja’s face streaked with blood. Figueiredo won a unanimous decision.

Erik Koch took fellow American Kyle Stewart down four times to win a unanimous decision in their welterweight bout.

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UFC 235: Jon Jones pummels Anthony Smith to retain title

LAS VEGAS — If you weren’t sure Jon Jones was back, the light heavyweight champion proved it Saturday night.

Jones spent 25 minutes taking the fight to an overmatched Anthony Smith, throttling him with a diverse arsenal on his way to a lopsided unanimous decision in the UFC 235 main event at T-Mobile Arena.

Afterward, Jones gave heavy praise to his opponent.

“His reputation is known for being so durable. Now I know why they call him ‘Lionheart,’” Jones (24-1, 1 NC) said. “I’ve never had someone talk to me while I was hitting him. ‘That was nice’ and ‘Is that all you got?’”

The only drama came in the fourth round when Jones cracked a downed Smith with a knee to the head, for which he was deducted two points by referee Herb Dean.

As a result, the final scores from all three judges were 48-44.

To his credit, Smith (31-14) wished to continue to fight instead of saying the knee forced him unable to continue.

“I didn’t want to take the DQ win,” Smith said. “I wanted to win it. I didn’t want to steal it.”

As a result, Smith went on into the fifth, which saw Jones keeping him against the Octagon to prevent any sort of crazy finish.

Jones is now 15-0 with one no contest – a title-fight win overturned because of a positive PED test – in his past 16 fights. His only loss came a result via disqualification for delivering illegal elbows when he was dominating and close to finishing Matt Hamill in 2009

Jones, 31, was listed as high as a 10-1 favorite by some oddsmakers coming into this fight, his first since winning the title back with a third-round knockout of Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 at The Forum.

Jones’ career has been colorful, to say the least, with two drug suspensions and being stripped two times – three counting an interim title.

Despite all that, Jones still has 12 championship fight victories, tying him for second with former flyweight king Demetrious Johnson and trailing only former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s 13.

Jones made Smith’s night difficult by using a plethora of kicks – to Smith’ legs, body and head – meant to attack as well as keep the challenger at bay.

Smith, who moved up from middleweight less than a year ago, found himself fighting for the belt after three consecutive finishes over former champions Rashad Evans and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.

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Brian Ortega title fight vs. champ Max Holloway canceled at UFC 226

LAS VEGAS — The UFC 226 co-main event between featherweight champion Max Holloway and South Bay’s Brian Ortega has been canceled because of Holloway’s health issues.

Holloway, as first reported by ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, began experiencing concussion-like symptoms Monday. After his open workout Wednesday at the MGM Grand, Holloway slept and was reportedly difficult to awaken and began experiencing vision flashes and slurred speech.

UFC 226 is headlined by heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic defending his belt against light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, but the 145-pound title fight between the two warriors in their prime was highly anticipated.

Ortega, 27, was reportedly offered replacements but is leaning strongly toward turning them down in hopes of fighting Holloway soon, according to those close to Ortega.

The undefeated 145-pounder from Lomita is coming off impressive finishes of Cub Swanson in December and Frankie Edgar in March – which came on just three weeks’ notice and ended with a first-round knockout.

This is the third time this year Holloway, 26, has not fought as scheduled on a card. He cited a leg injury in withdrawing a month before his March 3 title defense against Edgar for UFC 222, which led to Ortega’s opportunity. At UFC 223 in April, Holloway stepped up on late notice to fight lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but was pulled off the card by the New York State Athletic Commission due to difficulties with his weight cut.

UFC 226 is the latest International Fight Week card, typically among the UFC’s biggest of the year around Fourth of July, to be thrown into chaos

At UFC 189 in 2015, then-featherweight champion Jose Aldo pulled out a week before his fight with Conor McGregor.

At UFC 200 in 2016, then-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was removed from the card and his title defense against Cormier due to an anti-doping violation.

At UFC 213 in 2017, bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes withdrew just hours before her title defense against Valentina Shevchenko because of complications with sinusitis.

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