AJ McKee is headed to the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix Final.
McKee submitted former bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell with a neck crank in the first round of the Bellator 253 main event Thursday night. The stoppage came at 1:11 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
With the victory, McKee advances in the tournament and will face the winner of the clash between current champ Patricio Freire versus Emmanuel Sanchez for the 145-pound title.
Caldwell scored a takedown just seconds into the fight, but McKee immediately started landing elbows from the bottom.
McKee made an adjustment from guard, securing a body triangle and locking up Caldwell's head with an underhook and gable grip. That moved Caldwell's head into the mat and bent it forward, forcing the ex-NCAA collegiate wrestling champion to tap out.
With the victory, McKee improves his undefeated record to 17-0. The 25-year-old previously beat Derek Campos and Georgi Karakhanyan to make it to the grand prix semifinals.
McKee is widely considered one of the best young fighters in mixed martial arts, and he could became a face of Bellator in the future.
Caldwell, who held the 135-pound belt before moving up to featherweight to compete in the tournament, saw his two-fight winning streak end.