AJ McKee Jr. saw the biggest test of his career in 2021 when he fought Patricio Pitbull. While he prevailed quite quickly in that fight, he will have to defeat Pitbull again to end their rivalry on Friday night.
The rematch between McKee Jr. and Pitbull is set to headline Bellator 277, which is scheduled to take place at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, USA. The card also includes the end of a light heavyweight tournament and many other notable names from the promotion.
Here’s a preview of the night.
Preliminary Card (7:00PM EDT / 4:00PM PDT) (Youtube)
Bout 1: Theo Haig (0-0) vs. Alan Benson (1-2) (Light Heavyweight)
The first of three pro debuts on this card will see Theo Haig meet Alan Benson at light heavyweight.
There is little information online about Haig, although we know that he briefly competed in the amateur MMA scene.
Benson is coming off being on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout, as Justin Barry scored a crescent kick knockout against him last year. His sole Bellator appearance was a win, defeating Favian Gutierrez via split decision in September 2019.
Bout 2: Laird Anderson (1-0) vs. JT Donaldson (4-5) (Featherweight)
Featherweights Laird Anderson and JT Donaldson will compete in the next fight.
Anderson made his pro debut back in 2018, defeating Ricky Abdelaziz via split decision at Bellator 206. While he has remained active in grappling competitions since then, he has mainly remained out of competition. He will make his return with this fight on Friday.
Donaldson has the chance to even his pro record on Friday. He has worked towards that goal over the past year, scoring two consecutive wins in 2021.
Bout 3: Socrates Hernandez (0-1) vs. Rogelio Luna (0-0) (Featherweight)
Socrates Hernandez will return to Bellator on Friday to face pro newcomer Rogelio Luna.
Hernandez had an unsuccessful pro debut in September 2021, as Bobby Seronio III picked up a decision win over him. He has the chance to bounce back from that defeat on Friday.
Luna is turning pro after putting together three wins and one loss as an amateur between 2020 and 2021.
Bout 4: Edwin De Los Santos (1-0) vs. Alberto Mendez (0-0) (Flyweight)
Riding the momentum of a strong pro debut, Edwin De Los Santos will fight Alberto Mendez.
De Los Santos scored a quick finish win in his first pro fight, defeating Jon Adams via a first-round finish in September 2021. This came after a strong amateur run of four consecutive wins.
Mendez had an unsatisfying pro debut last, year as a fight against Bayanduuren Gantumur ended in a no-contest result. His amateur career saw him go undefeated with three finish wins.
Bout 5: Tyson Miller (2-0) vs. Rhalan Gracie (0-3) (Welterweight)
Returning to Bellator, Tyson Miller will meet winless pro Rhalan Gracie.
Miller is best known for his pro debut, which saw opponent Albert Gonzales suffer a gruesome leg injury to cause the fight to end in the second minute. Miller is now returning to Bellator after scoring his second pro win last year, defeating Luis Conde-Navarro on an XFC card.
Gracie has lost three fights in MMA, although two of those fights were from 2006 and 2007 respectively. He lost his return to the sport in September 2021, losing a unanimous decision to Shane Keefe.
Bout 6: Bobby Seronio III (1-0) vs. Calob Ramirez (1-1) (Bantamweight)
Bantamweights Bobby Seronio III and Calob Ramirez will fight next.
As mentioned earlier in the article, Bobby Serionio III won his pro debut last year with a decision victory over Socrates Hernandez. He has yet to lose between both his pro and amateur careers.
Ramirez won his pro debut in early 2020 on an LFA card. He is coming off his first loss, which was a submission defeat to Abdul Kamara in 2021.
Bout 7: Kyle Crutchmer (8-1) vs. Michael Lombardo (12-2) (Welterweight)
Bellator veteran Kyle Crutchmer will return in the next fight against Michael Lombardo.
Crutchmer has seen success since joining the Bellator roster in 2019, putting together four wins and just one loss. His last appearance was in December 2021, where he worked to a decision win over Oliver Enkamp.
Lombardo has won four of his last five fights. This includes an appearance on the 2020 Season of “Dana White’s Contender Series” and a victory against Kyron Bowen on a PFL card last year.
Bout 8: Gaston Bolanos (5-3) vs. Daniel Carey (7-5) (Featherweight)
Fighting to break losing streaks, Gaston Bolanos and Daniel Carey will rematch on Friday’s prelims.
Bolanos has spent his entire MMA career in Bellator. He has been out of action in recent years, with his two-fight losing streak resulting from 2019 and 2020. One of those defeats came against Carey, who submitted him in the first round of a fight on Bellator 226.
Carey has been finished in his last two fights, losing to Aaron Pico and Gadzhi Rabadanov in recent years.
Bout 9: Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (18-7-1) vs. Rafael Carvalho (16-6) (Middleweight)
After struggling at light heavyweight, Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov will move down to middleweight to face Rafael Carvalho.
Yagshimuradov joined the Bellator roster in 2021 to compete in their Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix. He was finished in the first round of the bracket by now-finalist Corey Anderson. He has lost another bout since then, dropping a decision to Karl Albrektsson in October 2021.
Carvalho is a Bellator veteran of 12 fights. He has struggled in recent years and will be fighting to snap a three-fight skid in this bout. His last bout was in May 2021, when Lorenz Larkin beat him on scorecards.
Bout 10: Tyrell Fortune (11-2) vs. Rakim Cleveland (22-14-1) (Heavyweight)
A heavyweight fight between Tyrell Fortune and Rakim Cleveland is scheduled to wrap up the prelims.
Cleveland, a former PFL fighter, suffered a loss in his Bellator debut last year. His fight against undefeated prospect Steve Mowry resulted in a quick loss, getting submitted in the first round via kimura. This opportunity came after a strong run on the regional scene last year, scoring three consecutive wins.
Fortune took a loss in his last fight, as Linton Vassell beat him via split decision in November 2021. He had a three-fight winning streak going before then.
Main Card (10:00PM EDT / 7:00PM PDT) (Showtime)
Bout 11: Tim Johnson (15-8) vs. Linton Vassell (22-8) (Heavyweight)
Experienced heavyweights Tim Johnson and Linton Vassell are set to kick off Friday’s main card.
Vassell is currently on a three-fight winning streak in Bellator. His last fight was a split decision victory over prospect Tyrell Fortune.
Johnson is coming off an unsuccessful 2021 that saw him earn two losses at a high level in Bellator’s heavyweight division. In the first of two fights, he lost a five-round unanimous decision against Valentin Moldavsky for the promotion’s interim heavyweight belt.
Johnson lost later that year to heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko, who stopped him in the second round with punches.
Bout 12: Aaron Pico (9-3) vs. Adli Edwards (9-1) (Catchweight 150 lbs)
Aaron Pico will meet short-notice opponent Adli Edwards on Friday’s main card.
Edwards took the fight recently to replace former UFC fighter Jeremy Kennedy. He is coming off a win from just earlier this month, submitting Josh Harvey on an XMMA card. That was his seventh consecutive win as a pro.
Pico is on a really strong run in Bellator currently, having scored five wins since early 2020. His last win came against then-undefeated Justin Gonzales, who he went three rounds against in November 2021 for a decision win.
Bout 13: Vadim Nemkov (15-2) vs. Corey Anderson (16-5) (Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix Final)
The conclusion to Bellator’s Light Heavyweight Grand Prix will take place in Friday’s co-main event.
Nemkov has held the Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship throughout his tournament run. He first earned this belt in 2020, dethroning Ryan Bader to claim the belt.
Anderson, a former ranked UFC light heavyweight, will get his first chance at a Bellator championship on Friday. Anderson joined the Bellator roster in 2020 with a finish win against veteran Melvin Manhoef.
Bout 14: AJ McKee Jr. (18-0) vs. Patricio Pitbull (32-5) (Bellator Featherweight Championship)
The long-awaited rematch between AJ McKee Jr. and Patricio Pitbull will take place in Friday’s main event.
The first meeting between McKee Jr. and Pitbull was arguably the biggest fight in Bellator’s 2021 season. Their fight was the conclusion of a 16-man featherweight tournament that had kicked off in 2019.
McKee entered the fight with an undefeated record of 17 wins, all of which came in Bellator. On the other side was Pitbull, one of the most dominant names in the history of the promotion.
McKee earned a quick win in his appearance, submitting Pitbull in the second round with a rear naked choke. This put an end to Pitbull’s second featherweight title run, a campaign that started in 2017 and included five victories as a champion.
McKee can close out a rivalry and put an end to the Pitbull era on Friday night. But Pitbull has shown his dominance in the promotion before and likely won’t be an easy out, despite the result of their first meeting.