AJ McKee relished his experience of fighting in Japan. The American beat Roberto de Souza by decision in front of a sold out Saitama Super Arena on New Year’s Eve.

But despite beating the Rizin lightweight champion McKee did not earn a title. There were no belts on the line at Rizin 40, instead promotional pride was at stake and it was Bellator that emerged with its reputation intact.

McKee embraced the Rizin ruleset and was looking to land soccer kicks and stomps throughout the fight. He hopes to get invited back and wants to challenge for the title next time out,

“Man, that was so fun. I don’t know if it’s something I can do every fight, but it’s definitely something I enjoyed a lot. I look forward to doing it again. Hopefully Rizin enjoyed the show, hope they bring me back, and we can do it again for a title.”

Tough dude

Rizin promoter Noboyuki Sakakibara probably didn’t enjoy seeing all five of his fighters lose to their Bellator adversaries. But while reigning lightweight champion de Souza couldn’t win against McKee he certainly won the American’s respect,

“He’s a warrior. He’s one tough dude. He kept on that triangle and it felt like he was trying to drag me into deep waters and drown me, but luckily I’m a good swimmer.”

For McKee the experience was particularly poignant because his father had fought on the exact same venue on New Year’s Eve in 2012. The circumstances were almost identical too with Antonio McKee facing reigning Dream champion Shinya Aoki in a non title bout.

But he did not manage to win, getting stopped in the second round and McKee was delighted to have gone one better than his dad,

“I had to redeem the last name McKee. Last time we fought here, my father broke his orbital, so I wanted to make sure I put on a great show for you guys.”

Lifetime experience

The Saitama Super Arena was packed to the rafters on New Year’s Eve. It was Mckee’s first time fighting in front of a crowd of this size and it sounds like he is looking to repeat the experience,

“This was one of the best arenas that I’ve fought in. The place is phenomenal, the fans were phenomenal, the culture is phenomenal. It was just an honor to be here, honestly.”

Japanese fans are notorious for not being as loud as their American counterparts. But McKee enjoys fighting in front of an educated audience and describes it as ‘a lifetime experience’,

“I’m just trying to embrace it all. Being here and fighting in Japan for the fans here is a lifetime experience. They just appreciate the art of the sport so much more here. So it’s an honor to be here and put on a great show.”