Bellator 263 Report: A.J. McKee stops Patricio Pitbull in the first round

Photo Courtesy: Bellator MMA

Bellator 263 Report: A.J. McKee stops Patricio Pitbull in the first round to win Bellator’s Featherweight Champion

By: Eric Marcotte 

Bellator 263 went head-to-head with the UFC on Saturday night, from the Forum in Inglewood, California. This was one of Bellator’s biggest cards since moving to the Showtime network, featuring a long-anticipated matchup between Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and A.J. McKee in the main event. Bellator began their Featherweight Grand Prix in 2019, and the tournament finally reached its conclusion here with both the featherweight championship as well as a million-dollar prize on the line. Pitbull (who is Champion of both Bellator’s Featherweight and Lightweight divisions), faced tough competition on his way to the finals, but defended in title in increasingly impressive fashion throughout each round of the tournament, and looked to cement his status as the best featherweight outside of the UFC with this win. For McKee, the undefeated fighter had finished each of his Grand Prix opponents throughout the tournament and was coming into this final matchup with all the makings of the promotion’s next big star. Stylistically, this was a fascinating fight on paper, and this was a big opportunity for Bellator MMA to get some eyes on their product from a promotional standpoint. The co-main event featured another quality bout, with Emmanuel Sanchez facing Mads Burnell.

Commentary for this card was provided by the team of Mauro Ranallo and John McCarthy. The analytical team consisted of Jenn Brown, Josh Thompson, and Ryan Bader.


*Brian Moore def. Jordan Winski by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)

*Georgi Karakhanyan def. Kiefer Crosbie by arm triangle at 4:25 of Round 1

*Joshua Jones def. Johnny Cisneros by TKO at 4:15 of Round 2

*Khasan Magomedsharipov def. Jonathan Quiroz by TKO at 4:21 of Round 2

*Gadzhi Rabadanov def. Daniel Carey by TKO at 3:50 of Round 1

*Vanessa Porto def. Ilara Joanne by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

*Goiti Yamauchi def. Christopher Gonzalez by TKO at 3:53 of Round 1

*Islam Mamedov def. Brent Primus by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

*Usman Nurmagomedov def. Manny Muro by TKO at 3:30 of Round 1

*Mads Burnell def. Emmanuel Sanchez by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)

*A.J. McKee def. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire by guillotine choke at 1:57 of Round 1 to win the Bellator Featherweight Championship


Moore took the fight to the clinch quickly, in search of a takedown against the cage. After a large period of inactivity against the cage, they were separated, and the fight resumed on the feet. They largely exchanged right hands for the remainder of the round, and I gave the edge to Moore.

Moore began to really attack the lead leg of Winski in the second round, and it compromised his movement quickly. He shot for a desperation takedown, in which Moore stuffed, before assuming top control. From this point onwards, Moore controlled the entirety of the round from top position, landing strong ground and pound, and really just smothering Winski on the ground. 20-17 Moore.

Winski’s movement still looked off from those earlier leg kicks as they began the final round. Moore was tagging him on the feet, and he continued to attack that leg. Winski was still able to throw that right hand of his, but Moore comfortably took this round with his striking, and I scored the fight 30-26 in his favor.

WINNER: Brian Moore by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)

Winski took this fight on short notice and showed a great deal of toughness going the distance here, but this fight was largely one-sided in favor of Moore. He looked sharp on the feet and absolutely dominated in the second round when the fight went to the ground. Moore improved to 5-3 in Bellator MMA with this win, and he is currently riding a three-fight win streak.


Crosbie had some early success in the clinch. They battled against the cage throughout the first half of the round, and it was Crosbie who eventually took the fight to the ground. He quickly took the back of Karakhanyan, but Karakhanyan scrambled on top and began to throw down ground and pound. Karakhanyan was able to transition to an arm triangle, and Crosbie was forced to tap out.

WINNER: Georgi Karakhanyan by arm triangle at 4:25 of Round 1

Crosbie was in a fantastic position on Karakhanyan’s back, and it speaks to the ability of Karakhanyan that he was able to get the finish about a minute later. It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Karakhanyan in Bellator, but he’s managed to put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016, and he is now 3-1 since moving back up to lightweight. He called for a top ten opponent in his post-fight interview.


Cisneros flurried forward with strikes to begin the fight, and he was able to shrug off a guillotine attempt from Jones. Jones landed a big leg kick that swept Cisneros off of his feet and recorded a takedown not long after. Jones postured up from half guard, before throwing down some strong elbows. Eventually, Jones began to really hunt for a finish with his ground and pound, but Cisneros was able to hang on until the end of the round, as Mauro and Big John admired Jones’s Kazushi Sakuraba/Hiroyoshi Tenzan styled chops. 10-9 Jones.

Jones quickly got Cisneros back to the ground with a double leg. He continued where he left off at the end of the second round, just dominating Cisneros on the ground. Cisneros was unable to get out from under Jones, and the fight was eventually stopped from culminating ground and pound.

WINNER: Joshua Jones by TKO at 4:15 of Round 2

After a solid opening flurry from Cisneros, this fight was all Jones, who really just beat Cisneros down on the ground. Cisneros held on for a while, but after the mid-way point of the first round, it felt as though it was only a matter of time before Jones finished this one. Cisneros typically fights at lightweight, which is the division that he plans to return to after this fight. He is now 4-2 in Bellator and asked for a contract from the organization after his win.


Quiroz went for an Imanari roll in the opening seconds and got kicked in the head for his troubles. They wrestled in the clinch against the cage, with Magomedsharipov ultimately getting Quiroz to the ground. After a period of inactivity, they were stood back up, although it appeared as though Quiroz had very little interest in standing with Magomedsharipov. 10-9 Magomedsharipov.

Magomedsharipov got the fight back to the ground with a body lock, as he attempted to take the back of Quiroz. He was successful and proceeded to flatten Quiroz out. Quiroz was unable to escape, and Magomedsharipov began to rain down left hands until the fight was finally stopped.

WINNER: Khasan Magomedsharipov by TKO at 4:21 of Round 2

Remarkably, Magomedsharipov is only 20 years old, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from his level of comfort in the cage. He was miles ahead of Quiroz on the feet as well as on the ground, and he is certainly a prospect for Bellator’s featherweight division. There is no reason to rush him to the more experienced featherweights in the promotion, but he is certainly a fighter to keep an eye on as he moves up the divisional ladder.   


Rabadanov landed a straight right hand to begin the fight. Carey was throwing out a number of front kicks to the body early until Rabadanov found his range and connected with a few hard right hands. As Carey threw a leg kick, Rabadanov just cracked him with a counter left hook that dropped Carey hard. Rabadanov threw down a trio of follow-up shots, and the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Gadzhi Rabadanov by TKO at 3:50 of Round 1

This was a real highlight finish for Gadzhi Rabadanov to kick off his run in Bellator. Carey threw a leg kick without really setting it up, and he paid the price by eating that big left hook that ended his night. Rabadanov was a huge favorite going into this card, and he definitely made good on those odds with this performance. 

VANESSA PORTO (22-9, 125.6) VS ILARA JOANNE (9-5, 125.2) – FLYWEIGHT

Porto and Joanne traded hands throughout the opening minutes. Joanne seemed to have the slightest of edges in the striking department, but it was very competitive. Joanne was able to slip in some head kicks as well, diversifying her offense a bit more than Porto. Porto tried to end the round with a takedown, but it was Joanne who found her way on top. 10-9 Joanne.

Porto landed a solid straight right early in the second round. About halfway through the round, Porto was able to get Joanne to the ground. She was able to control her there for about a minute but lost her position after posturing up, and almost got caught in a guillotine choke as she attempted to take Joanne back down. Tough round to score. 20-18 Joanne.

Joanne continued to be a step ahead on the feet. Porto was able to take her down halfway through the third, just like the previous round, and began to work from her guard. There was very little activity from Porto, and the fighters were eventually stood up. Porto was able to secure one more takedown towards the end of the fight, and tried to lock in the rear-naked choke, but could not secure it before time expired. 29-28 Joanne.

WINNER: Vanessa Porto by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

I wasn’t surprised to see this one result in a split decision, but I thought Joanne did enough to earn the win. In my opinion, Porto was rather ineffective with her top control time in that second round until that final minute, and Joanne was active enough off of her back, threatening submissions, that I thought she took that one. Regardless, this was Porto’s second fight in Bellator MMA, where she is now 1-1.


Yamauchi threw a series of kicks to the body, as both fighters seemed content to keep the fight standing early. Gonzalez landed a 1-2 in response to a jumping knee from Yamauchi. Yamauchi defended a takedown before they exchanged some heavy punches. Yamauchi seemed to have a bit more power in his shots, and he dropped Gonzales with a right hand. Yamauchi followed him to the ground and threw down left hands until the fight was stopped.

WINNER: Goiti Yamauchi by TKO at 3:53 of Round 1

Yamaguchi isn’t known for his striking, but the grappler genuinely showcased some solid striking here. Both fighters are primarily grapplers, and often those fights turn into wars on the feet, and that’s exactly what happened here. Yamauchi was throwing with a bit more precision and power, and it resulted in the first-round knockout for Bellator’s all-time leader in submissions.  Yamaguchi is now 12-4 in Bellator, and this marked only his second win by knockout.

BRENT PRIMUS (10-1, 155.2) VS ISLAM MAMEDOV (19-1-1, 154.9) – LIGHTWEIGHT

Primus was really swinging for the knockout early. Mamedov eventually took him down, and Primus went for an omoplata off of his back. Mamedov avoided it and began to work from the guard of Primus. Primus was very active off of his back, searching for submissions, but was never particularly close to locking anything in. Mamedov was not particularly busy from the top position, which made for a very close round. 10-9 Primus on my scorecard.

Primus pushed Mamedov to the cage, where they traded positions and defended takedown attempts from one another. It was Mamedov who eventually succeeded in taking Primus to the ground, where the action was looking very similar to the first round. Primus was hunting for submissions off of his back, and there wasn’t a ton of offense coming from Mamedov. 20-18 Primus.

Mamedov tripped Primus to the ground by sweeping his leg out from under him and immediately jumped on him. There was a ton of inactivity here, as they were showered with boos from the crowd. The fight went the distance, and I scored it 29-28 for Brent Primus.

WINNER: Islam Mamedov by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

I had it for Primus but wasn’t particularly shocked by the result. When a fighter spends the better part of fifteen minutes in top position, that’s going to look good to the judges. Personally, I thought Primus won with his activity from his back, but it’s worth noting that he was largely unsuccessful with his offense as well. Regardless, Mamedov got his arm raised here, and beating a former lightweight champion in his first Bellator bout will shoot him up the rankings quickly. I wouldn’t mind seeing him against another top lightweight in his next bout.


Nurmagomedov caught Muro with a head kick in the opening minute. Nurmagomedov took Muro to the ground and was quickly able to take his back. Muro tried to shake Nurmagomedov off but just ended up in a more troublesome position, seated, with Nurmaomedov still on his back. Muro was able to scramble up to his feet, where they began to wrestle against the cage. Nurmagomedov landed a brutal knee to the body, and Muro just crumbled to the ground, where Nurmagomedov quickly secured the victory with ground and pound.

WINNER: Usman Nurmagomedov by TKO at 3:30 of Round 1

Usman Nurmagomedov looked fantastic here, having very little difficulties with Muro in this fight. Nurmagomedov is strong on the ground as well as the feet, and he’s looking as though he’ll be a very tough prospect to knock off. He really impressed me in his Bellator debut, but he looked even better here, and that body shot that ended the fight looked brutal. Nurmagomedov is now 13-0 professionally, and I think he’s going to be shot up this lightweight division quickly. 


Sanchez landed a ton of shots throughout the opening minutes, and it seemed as though he had the advantage on the feet. Burnell was holding his own though, landing leg kicks and strong counter hooks. Sanchez was throwing some beautiful combinations, and there was just a ton of activity on each side here. Burnell took Sanchez down late in the round, but Sanchez was able to get back to his feet quickly. They exchanged on the feet for another minute, before Burnell ended the round with a takedown. 10-9 Sanchez.

The fight continued at a ridiculous pace in the second round. Once again, it was Burnell who changed levels to bring it to the ground. It took Sanchez about a minute to pick himself up, and he immediately went back on the attack after separating. Sanchez was having trouble stopping Burnell’s takedowns, and on his next attempt, Burnell was able to get Sanchez down and hold him there for the final minute and half of the round. This was a very close round, but I had it 20-18 for Sanchez heading into the third.

Burnell immediately went for a takedown to begin the third. He transitioned to the back of Sanchez, but Sanchez was able to roll on top and began to work from half guard. They moved back to the feet before Burnell dragged Sanchez right back down. Burnell was able to stay in top position for the remainder of the fight, and I thought he took this final round. 29-28 Sanchez.

WINNER: Mads Burnell by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)

This was an excellent fight, with tremendous output from both fighters, especially throughout the first two rounds. I thought the second round, in particular, was about as close as it gets, and I didn’t have any problems with Burnell walking away as the victor here. Sanchez is technically only 3-3 throughout his last six fights, but two of those losses were very close, and he remains a top fighter in Bellator’s featherweight division. As for Burnell, the man has won seven in a row since being cut from the UFC, and he’s really established himself as one of the top featherweights outside of that promotion. This win will move him into featherweight title contention, and it wouldn’t shock me if he faced the winner of tonight’s main event in his next bout.


After a brief feeling-out process, McKee caught Pitbull with a head kick, and immediately went in for the kill. McKee dropped Pitbull against the cage, and almost walked off a second too early, but moved in to trap Pitbull in a guillotine choke, and Pitbull passed out in the choke.

WINNER: A.J. McKee by guillotine choke at 1:57 of Round 1 to win the Bellator Featherweight Championship

Wow. The crowd absolutely exploded hereafter McKee’s big win. This marked the end of Bellator’s Featherweight Grand Prix, and along with the championship, McKee took home a million-dollar prize with this win. McKee has had an incredible run to the top of the division, and beating Pitbull, arguably the talent most associated with the Bellator brand, was the perfect conclusion to his journey. Pitbull is still the promotion’s lightweight champion, and it really wouldn’t shock me if McKee moved up to face Pitbull for that title as well in the future. If not Pitbull, then I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to seeing McKee face Burnell in his next bout. Regardless of his next fight, McKee has genuine superstar potential for Bellator MMA.

About Eric Marcotte 189 Articles
A graduate of Laurentian University, Eric reports on Mixed Martial Arts at POST Wrestling.