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A.J. McKee is getting ready for his move up to lightweight in October, but the road to get there from his first pro loss was a tough one for a little while.
McKee faces Spike Carlyle at Bellator 286, which takes place Oct. 1 in McKee’s home city of Long Beach, Calif. Prior to the upcoming bout, McKee lost a unanimous decision — and his title — to Patricio Pitbull in April at Bellator 277, the same man he stopped in the first round nine months prior to win the belt and the featherweight grand prix.
While McKee feels like he was robbed by the judges, the loss still took its toll on him mentally.
“Honestly, I went through a complete mental meltdown,” McKee said on The MMA Hour. “It was a full mental breakdown. I was checked out, I was going through it, and I would say it settled in the second week after the fight. That’s when I was off the deep end, but like always, through trials and tribulations of life, I found myself right back in the gym and I found the fuel to the fire.
“Physically, I was there; mentally, I was not. I just stayed home because I knew what was coming, so I just wanted to stay home in my safe place until I could gather my thoughts and build myself back to being stable.
“But it was a legit mental breakdown. When you’re a perfectionist, and you know you’re a perfectionist, you know you’re the best, and certain things in your life are OCD to where it’s like, ‘This is this, this is that, things need to be this way’ — if something [is out of place] you’re going to notice [if you’re like that]. For me, not being able to make an adjustment to something like that, it was a lot. But now I’m faster, stronger, better.”
McKee previously told MMA Fighting that he lacked some motivation for the rematch with Pitbull after finishing him so quickly and impressively in their first meeting.
Because of that, “The Mercenary” didn’t expect the loss to be so hard on him.
“I didn’t think it would happen, I was just kind of wishing it was more on my expense,” McKee said. “It wasn’t [at] my expense with the moments of the fight, but afterwards it went to the judges, and that’s when it was no longer in my control. Looking into that fourth and fifth round, instead of, ‘Hey, let’s secure a takedown and win the round, I know he can’t stop my takedown,’ but just being able to say, ‘Screw it, go finish him, like I normally do.’
“I don’t know, it was just a different motivation through the whole tournament — four for four, finish everybody — I was motivated to finish everybody, and I finished everybody, three in the first round, one in the third. It’s just a little different.”
It was several days of being in a dark place at home, and going back and forth to the gym to stay physically active. Luckily, McKee had his mom, and little brother Michael with him to help ease some of that burden.
His dad Antonio McKee probably related to what his son was going through. McKee revealed that his father was a bit tough on him, but it seemed to helped him snap out of it.
“It took me about two, three weeks to get back,” McKee explained. “It took me around two weeks to process everything, but I was always in the gym. I wasn’t very social [at the gym], I’m a very introvert person. I don’t really talk much.
“It was nice having [my little brother] there, but I don’t really talk to people. I don’t really go to people and tell them how I’m doing, and want to express, ‘Yo, I’m in the middle of a mental breakdown.’ I’m just going to get through it. Regardless of where I’m at, I’m just going to continue to prevail, do my best to get better in those circumstances, and that was the whole thing.
“My dad is not a soft person. ‘Get up. What you crying for, p****?’ So trying to go talk to him and be like, ‘I’m having a mid-life crisis I feel like, I’m breaking down,’ it’s not what he wants to hear. He’s invested in me and put so much time into me that it’s not just my career, it’s his career too, at the same time. So it’s just been fueling the beast to come back better.”