The McKee-otine is the 2020 FanSided MMA submission of the year.
A Submission of the Year winner typically checks a few boxes: high drama, high skill, and high stakes. AJ McKee’s neck crank over Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253 checks off all three boxes, and for that reason, it is FanSided MMA’s 2020 submission of the year.
First, the drama. McKee vs. Caldwell was one of Bellator’s most anticipated fights of 2020. McKee secured his spot in the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix semifinals in December 2019, and Caldwell earned his — and thus a matchup with McKee — shortly after in January 2020. With the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, McKee and Caldwell had 11 months to dwell on the fight.
Caldwell is a former Bellator bantamweight champion, a Division 1 national wrestling champion, and when he faced McKee in the main event of Bellator 253, he was certainly the stiffest test of McKee’s career. Caldwell had true championship experience and elite wrestling skills unlike anything McKee had seen yet in his career.
McKee, on the other hand, was (and still is) poised to be the heir apparent to former Bellator champion Michael Chandler, who was signed by the UFC in 2020. A true homegrown star, the outspoken McKee had built a gorgeous 16-0 record, all under Bellator banner. The bout with Caldwell represented a legitimate test of the promotional darling.
AJ McKee tapped Darrion Caldwell with a neck crank at Bellator 253 to win the 2020 Submission of the Year
Next, the skill. Just over 15 seconds into the fight, Caldwell did what he does best and took the fight to the mat. Settling into McKee’s closed guard, Caldwell buried his head, likely assuming he was safe from submission threats. Moments later, McKee had laced his arm over Caldwell’s head but under his armpit (the same position is used in what is commonly known as a “100 percent sweep”). McKee triangled his legs around Caldwell’s body and simply twisted, crushing Caldwell’s chin into his chest while torquing his spine at an extreme angle. It took McKee just 71 seconds to earn the tap.
AND JUST LIKE THAT!!
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 20, 2020
McKee’s neck crank was both creative and brutal, using Caldwell’s defensive posture inside the guard against him. Neck cranks of any kind are relatively rare in MMA, but McKee’s seemed to be entirely his creation.
Finally, the stakes. McKee’s submission earned him a spot in the finals of the Featherweight World Grand Prix, where he will meet the winner of Patricio Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez for a million-dollar purse and the featherweight strap. Given the spectacular fashion of his win over such a credentialed fighter, the submission also established McKee as a championship-caliber athlete, no longer an unbeaten fighter with questions about his level of competition.
McKee’s neck crank will surely be imitated, practiced, and executed in another fight in the future. But McKee was the first to do it on a big stage with his unblemished record, massive promotional potential, and a shot at the title on the line.
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