The many options for AJ McKee and Patricio Pitbull after Bellator 286

What were Bellator 286’s greatest moments? Jeff Wagenheim and Marc Raimondi offer their takeaways from the action-packed Long Beach events.

AJ McKee will be good at lightweight with options

After the first loss of his career and promotion to debut in a new weight class, AJ McKee did nothing on Saturday night to worry anyone about his future. In his hometown of Long Beach, California, McKee defeated Spike Carlyle by unanimous decision in a bloody war that McKee largely dominated. Carlyle came out roaring to start the fight and McKee dropped him anyway. For the remainder of the fight, Carlyle was mostly defensive, with McKee injuring his feet and attempting to pull off a highlight reel submission on the floor. McKee, the former Bellator World Featherweight Champion, put on an impressive first effort at lightweight.

The question for McKee now is what’s next and what makes the most sense. He has options and they are mostly good. A trilogy fight with Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is arguably the biggest fight Bellator can put up right now. McKee said he would only go back to featherweight for a title shot and has earned that right – he finished “Pitbull” in 2021 before dropping a close decision in April. Freire has talked about going to bantamweight after the division purge, but that was under the assumption Aaron Pico would be a challenger soon. Pico lost to Jeremy Kennedy at Bellator 286 due to injury layoff.

McKee’s other option? Participation in the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix beginning in 2023. McKee has already won the featherweight version of the Grand Prix and the $1 million that came with it. He could be looking to win a second million and the Bellator lightweight title at stake in the tournament. Oh, by the way, Freire’s brother Patricky is the current 155-pound Bellator champion. When I’m McKee, I tell Bellator to give me one of the “Pitbull” brothers — either Patricio for the featherweight belt and trilogy fight, or Patricky in the first round of the lightweight tournament for that belt. Oh, by the way, Freire’s brother Patricky is the current 155-pound Bellator champion and will defend his title against Usman Nurmagomedov in November.– Raimondi

Maybe it’s time Pitbull considered his options, too?

The fans booed for most of the 25 minutes of the Main Event. That reaction was somewhat predetermined because Bellator 286 was in Long Beach, California and the fighter in control of every second of the feature fight was Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Just six months ago, the world featherweight champion had handed Long Beach’s favorite son, AJ McKee, the first and only loss of his career.

But would Freire’s performance in this weekend’s unanimous decision win over Adam Borics have been a crowd favorite in every arena in every city around the world? Highly doubtful. It wasn’t like Freire was missing. It’s just that he was efficient in a sport that rewards spectacularly. The win was the Brazilian’s 34th of his career, his 11th by decision. He has won 11 times by KO and has 12 submissions. Talk about rounded. Talk about not having a business card.

Freire is in his third reign as Bellator’s Featherweight Champion. He was also a lightweight champion. He’s won nine of his last ten fights, beating some of the best to ever set foot in the round cage. And yet this all-time classic somehow flies under the radar.

When fans have debated which non-UFC fighters can claim to be the best in the entire sport, other Bellator names have cropped up more often than Freire’s. Gegard Mousasi when he was Middleweight Champion. Corey Anderson, who isn’t a champion but has looked dominant since joining from the UFC. “Pitbull” is no less worthy. He just gets less attention.

That could change in his next fight, which he has options for. The 35-year-old settled the score in a trilogy fight with McKee, who put on a heartbreaking performance in the co-main event. Or Freire could be relegated to bantamweight to achieve an unprecedented feat in MMA – winning a championship in a third weight division.

Both options have their disadvantages. Freire would steal the spotlight from his brother, lightweight champion Patricky, by chasing a McKee fight. And as for Patricio going down to 135, I’m never in favor of fighters shedding more weight.

But some have done so successfully, including Freire’s compatriot Jose Aldo. And the 5-foot-6 Freire has the stocky physique to pull it off. He might find his diet motivation in the stakes before him: the opportunity to make history. -Wagenheim The many options for AJ McKee and Patricio Pitbull after Bellator 286

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