After starting nearly two years ago, Bellator will end their Featherweight Grand Prix on Saturday at Bellator 263. Take a look at the journey to the finals.
Bellator 263 goes down on Saturday, July 31, 2021, starting at 7 p.m. ET, with the prelims on YouTube and the main card on Showtime. The main event will be the finals of a Featherweight Grand Prix that started in September 2019. Reigning champion Patricio Pitbull will defend his belt against the last challenger standing in his way. Despite being the most accomplished Bellator fighter of all time, Pitbull will arguably have his toughest fight yet against AJ McKee Jr.
McKee’s career has been a magnificent example of how Bellator can develop prospects. Since signing with Bellator in 2015, McKee has fought all seventeen of his pro fights with the promotion. At 26 years old, McKee holds a record of 17-0 with six submissions and six KO/TKOs. Going into the Bellator 263 main event, McKee has the opportunity to skyrocket his fan base and begin to solidify his legacy.
The Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix originally started with sixteen fighters. Other fighters involved were Darrion Caldwell, Derek Campos, Georgi Karakhanyan, Emmanuel Sanchez, Pedro Carvalho, Tywan Claxton, Sam Sicilia, Pat Curran, Adam Borics, Daniel Straus, Daniel Weichel, Saul Rogers, Henry Corrales, and Juan Archuleta. Before Bellator 263 ends the tournament on Saturday, let’s take a look at how we ended up with our two finalists.
Patricio Pitbull maintains title on the way to Bellator 263 main event
Pitbull started the Grand Prix by defending his belt against former bantamweight champion Archuleta. Despite being Pitbull’s opening round fight, Archuleta gave him a run for his money and ended up going to decision. After a grueling five rounds, Pitbull was awarded the unanimous decision win and retained the featherweight title.
Carvalho earned himself a shot at the title after beating Sicilia in the opening round of the Grand Prix via second-round submission. Pitbull came in as a huge betting favorite and showed why early in the fight. Carvalho was caught off guard, and Pitbull ended the fight with a right cross KO in the first round. With two wins under his belt, Pitbull advanced to the semi-finals.
Sanchez found himself against the champion after beating Claxton in the opening round and getting a unanimous decision win over Weichel in the quarter-finals. Having fought Pitbull once before, Sanchez had a solid chance to make adjustments and dethrone the king. Unfortunately, his hopes did not last long as Pitbull finished the fight by first-round submission. With three successful title defenses in the Grand Prix, Pitbull finds himself with one challenger standing in his way of perfection.
A.J. McKee Jr. remains undefeated going into Bellator 263
McKee started the Grand Prix against a tough veteran in Karakhanyan. Although McKee was the betting favorite going into the fight, fans waited to see how the young star would cope with the pressure of the tournament. McKee managed to exceed expectations by finishing Karakhanyan via KO in only 8 seconds.
In the quarter-finals, Campos found himself against McKee after beating Straus in the opening round via decision. Campos mainly fights at lightweight but showed potential at featherweight with the win against Straus. McKee came in as a massive betting favorite and proved his worth once again. He finished the fight in the third round via submission and punched his ticket to the semi-finals.
Going into the semi-finals, Caldwell was given the best chance to beat McKee. After beating Corales in the opening round and Borics in the quarter-finals, Caldwell showed he was in the Grand Prix to win. His well-rounded skill set and experience made Caldwell a tough matchup stylistically for McKee.
With that being said, McKee has continued to exceed expectations throughout his career. Mckee ended up on his back early and sunk in a modified guillotine choke to pull off the first-round submission win. Now only one man stands in the way of McKee becoming the featherweight champion and winning the $1 million prize.