Bellator 263: AJ McKee submits Pitbull to win $1 million title fight

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, knees Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, has his arm raised after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, is choked-out by AJ McKee blue gloves, in the first round during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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INGLEWOOD — A.J. McKee’s call-out finally came home.

The undefeated Long Beach star’s crusade, which started with his professional MMA and Bellator debut in 2016 when he dared to invoke the name of featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull, has been more than six years in the making.

On Saturday night at The Forum, McKee won the $1 million Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix with a technical submission via standing guillotine choke of Pitbull in the first round to claim the belt and establish his superstar status in the sport.

After the pair largely squared off with little action to start the fight, McKee stunned the champion with a left head kick and dropped him with punches against the cage.

The 26-year-old phenom began to prematurely celebrate before Pitbull began to rise. McKee then pounced and locked in a standing guillotine choke, torqueing with all his might before Pitbull began to fade. Referee Mike Beltran jumped in at 1:57 to kick off a wild celebration in front of the partisan crowd.

Pitbull (32-5) hadn’t lost in five years, winning all seven title fights before Saturday – twice dethroning a champion and five times successfully defending his featherweight title.

McKee (18-0) kicked off his professional MMA career more than six years ago, having just turned 20 and collecting a victory via submission at Bren Events Center in Irvine and calling out Pitbull, who was seven months into his first featherweight title reign.

Pitbull and McKee both started their journeys in the grand prix at Bellator 228 in September 2019 at The Forum — Pitbull dominating top contender Juan Archuleta in a unanimous decision after McKee recorded a highlight-reel 8-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan

Three months later against Derek Campos, McKee grinded out a third-round submission win despite tearing his lateral collateral ligament in his left knee at Bellator 236 in December 2019. And in November, he advanced to the final by forcing a tapout via a neck crank/guillotine choke of former Bellator bantamweight champion and NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253 in November.

Pitbull, 34, had been regarded by some as the top 145-pounder in the world. The two-time Bellator featherweight champion also boasts the organization’s lightweight title after his first-round knockout of Michael Chandler at Bellator 221 in May 2019, joining Ryan Bader and Joe Warren as the only double champions in Bellator history.

Angels blanked by A’s for second night in a row

ANAHEIM — Amid the recurring, and mostly accurate, narrative that the Angels’ pitching has been holding them back, their performance against the Oakland A’s this season has told a slightly different story.

The Angels’ 2-0 loss to the A’s on Friday night was the second game in a row in which they didn’t score. They have scored just once in their last four games against the A’s.

For the season, the A’s have beaten the Angels in 11 of 14 games, and the Angels have hit just .218 and averaged 2.5 runs per game.

“They beat us because we don’t score any runs against them,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “We failed offensively against them, and we have to figure it out.”

The A’s have now pushed the Angels seven games back in the race for the second wild-card playoff spot in the American League.

Certainly, there are a couple of obvious reasons the Angels have had so much trouble hitting the A’s, mainly that Oakland has pretty good pitching. Chris Bassitt, who blanked them for seven innings on Friday night, was an All-Star this season, and he improved his ERA to 3.31.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Maddon said. “For me, of all the pitchers in the American League, he’s one of the better right-handers. He’s under the radar, but he shouldn’t be.”

Secondly, the Angels have played all of their games so far against Oakland in the 10 weeks since Mike Trout has been on the injured list with a strained calf.

The Angels are currently without three-time AL MVP Trout, third baseman Anthony Rendon and All-Star first baseman Jared Walsh, who are all on the injured list.

The anemic offense wasted another strong start from a rotation that is finally showing signs of consistent reliability. The Angels’ starters have a 3.43 ERA in July.

One of the best has been Patrick Sandoval, who on Friday made his first appearance since losing a no-hitter with one out in the ninth last weekend.

Although he wasn’t as sharp as in his previous outing, he gave up just one run in 5-2/3 innings.

Sandoval, who lowered his ERA to 3.38, got himself into trouble with a season-high six walks, one of which was with the bases loaded to push home the only run he allowed. He escaped further damage with six strikeouts.

“I’m definitely frustrated to have six walks in a game,” Sandoval said. “That’s a very good lineup, very disciplined. They had a plan. They executed their plan. It’s about competing at the end and I was trying to get as deep as possible.”

In the second inning, he issued back-to-back walks to load the bases, but then he struck out Tony Kemp to retire the side, pumping his fist on his way off the mound.

Sandoval was finally pulled after throwing a career-high 115 pitches, finishing with another strikeout of Kemp.

“Give them credit for working good at-bats against him,” Maddon said. “Give Sandy credit for battling. This guy is growing leaps and bounds.”

Trinity League Football Podcast: Top offseason highlights, players on the rise, storylines to watch


The Trinity League Football Podcast is back to get you ready for the 2021 season, which begins with Mater Dei and St. John Bosco ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation by MaxPreps.

Listen to this week’s episode here, and subscribe in Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts to get every episode as they publish.

In this episode, Dan Albano and Trinity League insider Scott Barajas recap the offseason highlights in the Trinity League, discuss players on the rise and spotlight the top storylines for each team as they get ready to start the season.

Angels rally twice in victory over Rockies

ANAHEIM ― Whether the Angels wind up buying, selling, or standing pat before Friday’s trade deadline remains to be seen. Give credit where it’s due: the Angels have worked wonders just to make it interesting.

On the same day that All-Star first baseman Jared Walsh joined Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon on the injured list, journeyman utility player Phil Gosselin stood in as the Angels’ number-3 hitter. Batting behind Shohei Ohtani – whose MLB-leading 37th home run brought the Angels from behind earlier in the night – Gosselin’s eighth-inning single drove in the winning run in an 8-7 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Max Stassi and Justin Upton also hit home runs as the Angels (51-50) took two of three games in the interleague series with Colorado (44-58), the fourth-place team in the National League West.

Combined with the Seattle Mariners’ loss earlier in the day, the Angels gained a game on the team directly ahead of them in the AL West. They’re five games behind Oakland (57-46) for the second AL wild card berth.

Charged with protecting a one-run lead, Angels closer Raisel Iglesias couldn’t nail down a rare five-out save attempt.

Entering the game with a runner on first base, Iglesias allowed back-to-back singles with two outs in the eighth inning. The latter allowed Josh Fuentes to scamper home from third base and tie the score, 7-7.

After David Fletcher punched an opposite-field single through the right side of the infield against Carlos Estevez, Ohtani drew his second walk of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Fletcher then advanced to third base on a passed ball charged to catcher Elias Diaz, before Gosselin’s line drive to left field scored Fletcher with the go-ahead run.

Iglesias (7-4) nailed down the win by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

Angels starter Andrew Heaney allowed three runs in six innings and left in line for the victory with a 6-3 lead. But right-hander Steve Cishek and left-hander Tony Watson allowed the Rockies to score three runs in the seventh inning, tying the score at 6-all.

Trevor Story’s two-run home run in the first inning put the Angels in an early hole. The Angels got one run back in the bottom of the first when Ohtani and Jose Iglesias sandwiched singles around a walk.

In the fourth inning, Heaney bounced a wild pitch in front of home plate with a runner on third base. Stassi couldn’t retrieve the ball and flip it to Heaney in time to prevent Díaz from scoring, giving Colorado a 3-1 lead.

After Adam Eaton and Juan Lagares struck out to begin the bottom of the fourth, Jack Mayfield lined a single to center field to knock Antonio Santos out of the game. Right-hander Jesus Tinoco took over, and a five-run rally broke out.

Tinoco hit David Fletcher with a pitch before Ohtani obliterated a fastball over the plate, giving the Angels a 4-3 lead.

Ohtani’s 37th home run electrified the announced crowd of 16,365 and set the single-season record for a player born outside North or South America.

The Rockies placed their scheduled starter, Chi Chi Gonzalez, on the COVID-19 injured list before the game. Left-handed reliever Lucas Gilbreath was the first of five pitchers to take the ball. Manager Bud Black informed Gilbreath, a 25-year-old rookie, he was starting the game Wednesday afternoon.

More to come on this story.

Shohei Ohtani hits 36th home run, but Rockies blow out Angels

ANAHEIM ―

ANAHEIM ― Maybe Joe Maddon jinxed it.

The Angels’ manager mentioned Tuesday in his pregame session with reporters that he was looking for a low-leverage situation in which to use Mike Mayers, his struggling right-handed reliever.

Maddon had just one problem: The Angels had been playing too many close games recently. His starting pitchers had been averaging six innings a game for the month of July, leaving his relief pitchers little room to work.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful problem to have,” Maddon said. “I’m not looking for negative blowouts.”

The solution found Maddon. The Angels lost 12-3 to the Rockies before an announced crowd of 16,115 at Angel Stadium.

Mayers got his work in. He allowed only a soft single in a scoreless eighth inning. At that point, ironically, Maddon was out of pitchers.

Veteran outfielder Adam Eaton pitched the ninth ― and he delivered a scoreless inning too, his fastball touching 90 mph. It was the first time Eaton had ever pitched in 10 major league seasons. Judging by how the rest of the game went for the Angels’ pitching staff, it might not be the last time Eaton takes the mound.

Colorado took a 10-0 lead behind left-hander Austin Gomber (8-5). By the time Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani provided his daily heroics ― a two-run home run in the fifth inning that traveled 463 feet ― the game was well out of reach.

The home run was Ohtani’s 36th of the season, which leads the major leagues. Ohtani also struck out twice on a night when the Angels left 11 runners on base.

The top of the first inning foreshadowed what was to come.

The Rockies’ leadoff hitter, Raimel Tapia, lined a single to the outfield on Jose Suarez’s second pitch of the game. Suarez (4-4) threw to first base to keep Tapia close but was charged with a balk.

With Tapia on second base, Suarez got the next two hitters to hit routine ground balls to third base. Jack Mayfield couldn’t field either ball cleanly, and suddenly the bases were loaded.

Mayfield had never made an error in 167 major league innings at third base before making two in the first inning.

Suarez got Charlie Blackmon and C.J. Cron to hit a couple tailor-made double play balls. The Angels got only a single out on each play, and two runs scored.

“It’s a perfect example of why the first pitch matters,” Maddon said. “Games can be won or lost in the first inning.”

Brendan Rogers led off the third inning with a solo home run, crushing a 92-mph fastball that missed its target over a row of ficus hedges in center field. The Rockies tacked on two more runs in the inning, helped in part by a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias following another routine ground ball.

The Angels committed three errors as a team; the Rockies’ four unearned runs were the most by any Angels opponent this season.

By the time Suarez was removed in the fourth inning, the Angels trailed 6-0. Andrew Wantz offered little relief, serving up a 3-run home run to the second batter he faced, Sam Hilliard.

Eight runs were charged to Suarez in 3 ⅓ innings.

“I did find it a little difficult” to recover from the first inning, Suarez said. “I was trying to get out of the inning with as few pitches as possible, but that’s out of your control.”

The Angels fell to 50-50. They are four games behind the third-place Mariners in the American League West and five games behind the Oakland A’s for the final Wild Card spot.