A.J. McKee wants Usman Nurmagomedov after champ’s suspension is lifted: ‘I don’t really give a s*** what he’s taking’

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A.J. McKee didn’t exactly have the year he wanted in 2023, so he’s ready for a fresh start to kick off 2024.

Originally slated to be one of the eight participants in the Bellator lightweight grand prix, McKee had to drop out due to an injury before the tournament even began. He eventually returned to action this past November, earning a hard-fought decision over Sidney Outlaw despite spending the majority of the bout on his back.

Now set to face Clay Collard at the PFL vs. Bellator card on Saturday, McKee anxiously awaits the chance to jump back into title contention, especially with the grand prix in limbo following Bellator’s sale late last year.

“I’m dedicating this fight to myself and getting that gold back around my waist,” McKee told MMA Fighting. “Whether it’s [145 pounds, 155 pounds,] whatever it may be, I’ve just got to take one fight at a time. I really can’t overlook anybody. Just focus on what’s at hand, and right now, Clay Collard is the man.

“I wasn’t happy with how my last fight went, spending 12 out of 15 minutes on my back, but when you’re dealt low cards in the game of poker, sometimes you’ve got to bluff, and I did what I did to come out victorious. I was happy to receive the win, and receiving an opponent like Clay Collard on a pay-per-view event, it’s great. I couldn’t have asked for a better opponent. I really haven’t been able to utilize my striking at 155 pounds. Looking at this event in Saudi Arabia, Clay Collard’s going to come forward, he’s going to put it all on the line, and I’m looking forward to doing the same thing.”

A win on Saturday would move McKee to 4-0 as a lightweight after spending the majority of his career competing at 145 pounds. His ultimate goal hasn’t changed — and that’s capturing Bellator gold at 155 pounds, which he thought would happen in the grand prix.

Meanwhile, reigning Bellator lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov remains sidelined until April due to a six-month suspension after he tested positive for a banned substance following a fight against Brent Primus this past October.

Nurmagomedov’s win over Primus was overturned to a no-contest by the California State Athletic Commission, but Bellator opted not to strip him of the lightweight title because his positive test came as a result of a prescribed medication.

It remains to be seen exactly what will be next for Nurmagomedov when he returns, but McKee definitely hopes he gets to welcome him back.

“It’s the fight that everyone wants to see,” McKee said. “There’s a lot of great fights on this card. Like I said, if I can’t be undefeated, no one can. I’m looking forward to taking that ‘0.’ I’m coming for Usman. He’s a great champ. I would love to test his skills. He’s got great wrestling, pretty decent striking, jiu-jitsu, and I think that’s just an entertaining fight wherever it may go. I think it’s the fight to make.”

As far as Nurmagomedov failing a drug test, McKee doesn’t care much about whatever substance was found in his body, legal or not. He’s not going to sacrifice his chance to win the Bellator lightweight title just because Nurmagomedov might be illegally enhanced.

“As far as Usman being suspended, I don’t really give a s*** what he’s taking or what he’s on,” McKee said. “I don’t care. Take whatever the hell you want. When we get in the cage, you’ve got a fight on your hands. OK, it’s prescribed, you didn’t list it, I don’t care. I don’t really care. You can get f****** steroids prescribed if you wanted. I really don’t care.

“At the end of the day, I lost the opportunity to claim a world title, and eight names to continue my hit list on [my way to] a world title. That’s what I was really intrigued about.”

If the lightweight title is unavailable after he faces Collard this weekend, McKee would entertain a return to featherweight as well if he could finally settle some unfinished business there.

The only blemish on McKee’s otherwise spotless résumé came in a decision loss to Patricio Pitbull in their 2022 rematch. McKee hoped for an immediate trilogy fight, but that didn’t happen, so he’s hoping an eventual bout with Pitbull is still on the table for the future.

“I’ve always been open to [returning to featherweight],” McKee said. “I think I’ve always been open and verbal about it. The fight has to make sense. At 22 or 23 fights in the 145-pound division, who else on the Bellator roster is there for me to fight besides Patricio Pitbull? That’s the fight everybody wants to see.

“It all matters to what happens. I can dream on what I want to do and I can say what I want to do, but I need to sit down and speak to PFL and see what they want to do and figure out a game plan.”

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