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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Don't let that Patricio Freire-AJ McKee scuffle overshadow actual Bellator 263 fight

Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, left, and AJ McKee, get

Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, left, and AJ McKee, get into a scuffle at the Bellator 263 news conference on Thursday, July 29, 2021. They fight on Saturday night in Los Angeles. Credit: Bellator MMA/Lucas Noonan

Now that both the little hand and the big hand orbited the 12 enough times, we can let go of the news conference kerfuffle between Patricio "Pitbull" Freire and AJ McKee. Surely it generated enough views to the video, unique visitors to the site and retweets to please the higher-ups.

And let’s leave it there, somewhere in the Thursday afternoon time capsule of a niche sport that reaches its main audience quite well but still competes for attention on a larger scale, save for a small handful of crossover superstars and broadcast partners with sizable investments in rights fees.

How about now, after the Bellator 263 main event fighters talked about the disrespect shown toward each other and the subsequent displaying of additional disrespect, after the knocking over of the microphone and the grabbing of the featherweight belt and the posturing of two fighters (both maybe a little ornery amid their weight cuts) tasked with an aggressive and violent job, can we focus on the actual fight?

Even Bellator president Scott Coker put aside the headline-grabbing sideshow, telling MMA Junkie’s Nolan King after the news conference, "No one’s getting paid today, right? The fight happens on Saturday. Everybody gets paid Saturday, let’s save it boys." (But he's a promoter, too, so he also said he likely will get additional security for the real fight on Saturday night at The Forum in Inglewood, California.)

Pitbull vs. McKee may be the biggest fight in Bellator history, and that’s not pre-fight hyperbole to sell tickets and Showtime subscriptions. That’s someone else’s job.

Pitbull, 34, is Bellator’s best fighter and the promotion’s reigning featherweight and lightweight champion. He is 32-4 in his 17-year MMA career, the last 11 with Bellator.

"This is one of the biggest fights of my career," Freire said. "I have fought several guys that were very tough, too. I beat Michael Chandler which was revenge for me. Now is a new opportunity to show my talent."

McKee is eight years younger and has spent his entire career under the Bellator banner. He also happens to be 17-0.

"For 22 years I’ve been dreaming for this moment," McKee said. "It’s now here so you embrace it and enjoy every second of it, and you continue to build off of it."

This fight should sell itself. No theatrics needed, even amid the heart of summer and going up against a UFC event and the Tokyo Olympics. Here seems like a good space to mention these three tidbits about Pitbull vs. McKee at Bellator 263:

1) It is for the Bellator featherweight championship.

2) It is the culmination of Bellator’s 16-man featherweight Grand Prix, which includes another belt.

3) The winner gets a $1 million check.

"There is definitely a lot on the line," McKee said. "Being undefeated, there is an extra 0, it’s not just the six in that check I am fighting for. I’m fighting to live up my legacy, continue my father’s legacy and be a champ. It’s now time for me to go get my belt."

Freire has fought just about everyone of note in Bellator’s lighter weight classes. He has won seven in a row, including the last two via first-round stoppage.

"I fought four times against someone like McKee, it was Daniel Straus," said Freire, who is 3-1 against Straus, a former champion. "I feel comfortable, I have several training partners in my gym like him."

No matter how much Freire trains with someone like McKee, it'll be a different world when he faces the real thing.

"All my training in my entire life has been built up for this moment," McKee said. "I’ve been on big stages since I was a kid. He thinks I’m nervous but I think that’s him trying to self-reflect and push his little self on me."

New York Sports