Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee Preview

Bellator moves in front of a capacity crowd for the first time this year with a talent rich Bellator 263 card with one of the fights of the year, on paper, in the main event this Saturday July 31.

The final of the Featherweight Grand Prix takes place as champion Patricio Pitbull takes on undefeated phenom AJ Mckee. There is also some Irish interest on the card with SBG HQ veterans Brian Moore and Kiefer Crosbie set to compete on the card which takes place at the LA Forum in California. 

We are in for a treat this weekend as we finally get to close out the Featherweight Grand Prix which started back in 2019. It’s rare that MMA tournaments work out this well in regards to having the two top guys meeting in the final like this. Thankfully it did, and here we are! Cage Warriors and UFC have scheduled cards this weekend, and if time is of the essence for you, this is the card you wanna check out.

AJ Mckee, son of MMA veteren Antionio McKee, built his reputation as one of the best 145 pounders in the world today all within the Bellator promotion. He is, in my opinion, a fighter who has been handled and matched up perfectly throughout his career. Throughout his 17-fight career he has shown the necessary progression in different stages of his career and fully merits his position in the FW final. Only long-time featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull stands in his way of the 1 million dollar prize and the chance to become a world title holder. The only question remains is that if Mckee is good enough to get the job done, has he progressed enough in his career to become the new champion. 

Standing across from Mckee will be Bellator’s featherweight and lightweight champion Patricio Pitbull. The Brazilian has been with the promotion since 2010 and is currently Bellator’s biggest star. Already having picked up wins over the likes of Emmanuel Sanchez x2, Juan Archuleta and Mike Chandler, Pitbull will feel that he is more than ready for the latest challenger to try and dethrone him. The champ has some serious power in both hands and that facet of his game has brought him major success. Patricio will be looking to do much the same in this fight, and why not? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

The Brazilian is no slouch on the mat either with 11 submission victories under his belt. It will be the job of his opponent, Aj McKee to bring something else to the table, something the double champion has not dealt with before. For a guy of Pitbulls experience, that won’t be easy for the challenger to do. McKee has steamrolled his three opponents, Georgi Karakhanyan, Derek Campos and Darrion Caldwell, enroute to this final showdown. McKee feels that this is his time, there’s a new kid on the block and we can’t be too upset with him as fans for thinking that. 

This will be undoubtedly the toughest test of AJ McKee’s career, the same can not be said for Pitbull. I’m not trying to disregard the skills of the young challenger but experience is always a great thing to have when you step through that cage door. I do feel McKee will offer some problems but will it be enough to dethrone the featherweight king? We will find out on Saturday night. 

Mad Burnell is an elite level featherweight, the Danish native has already fought in Cage Warriors and for the UFC throughout his young career. After two fights, and two impressive victories, Burnell goes toe-to-toe with one of Bellator’s best in Emmanuel Sanchez. This will be the first fight back for Sanchez after the bitterly disappointing loss to Patricio Pitbull in his last outing. “El Matador” is still a very dangerous fighter and if Burnell was to go on here to get the will, that would be a hell of a scalp. This will be quite the battle and I can not wait to see how it unfolds. 

Undefeated 23-year old Russian prospect Usman Nurmagomedov takes on Manny Muro in the lightweight division. Usman, who is a cousin of Khabib, will look to make it thirteen wins in a row and maintain his flawless record to date. In more lightweight action former lightweight champion Brent Primus takes on Bellator debutant Islam Mamedov. The Russian has over 20 fights and with 13 finishes to his name, he will be no easy fight for the former champion. Chris Gonzalez will open up the main card when he takes on Goiti Yamauchi in the lightweight division. Gonzalez, early in his MMA career, beat the ever experienced Roger Huerta in his last encounter. He will have to repeat history going in against Yamauchi who is a 30-fight veteran. Exciting fight to open the main card. 

The preliminary card features a host of exciting bouts but there are two that stand out above the rest, especially if you have an Irish interest in the card. Dublin’s own and SBG standout Keifer Crosbie will make his lightweight debut against Georgi Karakhanyan. The American is in the twilight of his career with 40+ fights under his belt. Having won two out of his last three fights, Karakhanyan’s last outing saw him win a split decision over Bryce Logan. Crosbie always brings the heat and is rarely in a boring fight, I expect fireworks in this contest too. 

The other Irish interest on the undercard is Wexford man Brian Moore who is an OG of Irish MMA. Moore was scheduled to take on Jared Scoggins but that fight fell through at the last minute due to COVID protocols. Luckily we still get to see the SBG man in action as Jordan Winski steps in at short notice. Winski has spent all of his career on the regional scene Stateside and will be looking to make the most of this last minute opportunity. He will be a worthy challenger for “The Pikeman” with six finishes from his eleven wins so far in his fighting career. Moore comes into this bout after a sintilizing performance when he dismantled Simone D’Anna in two rounds in his last outing. With rumblings of a 135-pound Grand Prix in the works, a finish here for Moore would make it impossible for the Wexford man not to be included in the tournament if it was to happen. Violence is always guaranteed when Moore steps into the cage and “The Pikeman” always looks for the finish. Make sure to tune into the card early to catch his fight. 

An all Brazilian affair is set to headline the preliminary card when Vanessa Porto and Ilara Joanne throw down in the women’s flyweight division. Both athletes have lost their last fights so they will both be eager to get back inside the win column. Gadzhi Rabadanov fights for the first time under the Bellator banner as he takes on Daniel Carey at a catchweight of 150 lbs. Carey was defeated by Aaron Pico last time out. Johnny Cisneros and Joshua Jones will lock horns at a catchweight of 180 lbs and Justin Barry and Daniel Compton are the curtain jerkers on what will be a fantastic night of Bellator action.

Featherweight GP Final:

(C)Patricio Pitbull vs. AJ McKee Jr.

Featherweight: Mads Burnell vs. Emmanuel Sanchez

Lightweight: U. Nurmagomedov vs. Manny Muro

Lightweight: Islam Mamedov vs. Brent Primus

Lightweight: Chris Gonzalez vs. Goiti Yamauchi

Women’s Flyweight: Vanessa Porto vs. Ilara Joanne

Catchweight 150 lbs: Gadzhi Rabadanov vs. Daniel Carey

Lightweight: G. Karakhanyan vs. Kiefer Crosbie

Bantamweight: Brian Moore vs. Jordan Winski

Featherweight: K. Magomedsharipov vs. Jonathan Quiroz

Catchweight 180 lbs: Johnny Cisneros vs. Joshua Jones

Ian O'Neill is a Kilkenny man living in Canada. You can catch him on Twitter most of the time talking all things MMA. Follow me on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma.