AJ McKee has reached the point in his career where he thinks he’s more than deserving of a title shot. He’ll have to beat Darrion Caldwell in the main event of Bellator 253 at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday to get that chance.

McKee Caldwell odds Bellator
The undefeated AJ McKee (right) will take on Darrion Caldwell (left) in a Featherweight Grand Prix semifinal on Thursday at Bellator 253. (Image: Lucas Noonan/Bellator)

McKee has run his professional record up to 16-0, with all of his fights coming in Bellator.

Undefeated McKee Facing New Level of Competition

The 25-year-old has reached the semifinals in the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix, and he’s now set up to fight the best opponents of his career. But, with Bellator yet to schedule the other semifinal, it’s likely that the final of this tournament won’t take place until sometime in the middle of 2021. Meanwhile, McKee is losing patience.

“For me, this whole thing has been prolonged. I kind of felt like this belt is long overdue,” McKee told MMA Fighting. “[Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire] got the 145 and 155-pound titles and these are prime years for me. I’m 25. I’m looking forward to being a champ-champ … it’s long overdue. I’m anxious to get it. I’m tired of him holding what’s property of me.”

Caldwell (15-3) doesn’t intend on giving McKee the chance to fight for a title. After back-to-back losses to Kyoji Horiguchi, the 32-year-old American bounced back with wins over Henry Corrales and Adam Borics in the Featherweight Grand Prix to reach the semifinals.

Bellator 253 Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)
Darrion Caldwell: +205 AJ McKee: -278
Benson Henderson: +145 Jason Jackson: -182
Joey Davis: -480 Bobby Lee: +350
Keith Lee: +245 Raufeon Stots: -375

While McKee has put together an impressive record, Caldwell says he represents a new level of competition for the undefeated prospect.

“I feel like he’s been not necessarily sheltered, but he’s been brought up the right way,” Caldwell told MMA Junkie. “He’s been given the right fights to be in the position that he’s in today. He’s never really fought a guy like me. It’s going to show come Thursday.”

Winner Wants Freire in Tournament Final

McKee enters the fight as a -278 favorite over Caldwell (+205), according to odds posted by DraftKings Sportsbook. The winner will eventually take on the winner of the other semifinal, which pits Freire against Emmanuel Sanchez. While that final will be for the featherweight title, both men have made it clear that they want to fight Freire, perhaps the most highly-regarded name in all of Bellator.

“I’ve always wanted to get my hands on Patricio, you know?” Caldwell told MMA Junkie. “That’s the GOAT. For him to win that fight, it’s important to me.”

Meanwhile, McKee wants multiple fights with Freire to truly get what he wants.

“That’s always been my plan,” McKee said of attempting to take both titles from Freire. “I’m going to give him a nice little taste of what he’s in for and then that 155-pound title is coming home.”

The Bellator 253 card also features two bouts between welterweights. Jason Jackson (-182) takes on Benson Henderson (+145) in the co-main event, while Joey Davis (-480) comes in as a substantial favorite over Bobby Lee (+350).

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