Interim or not, Kevin Lee is ready to be recognized as the No. 1 fighter at 155 pounds.
Lee is scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 216 on Oct. 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., with the winner walking away as the interim lightweight champion. Undisputed titleholder Conor McGregor has been absent from the Octagon since last November as he took time off to tend to the birth of his first child and pursue a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
During Monday’s appearance on The MMA Hour, “The Motown Phenom” told Ariel Helwani that he doesn’t need to beat anyone but Ferguson to prove that he’s the best in the division.
“I think as far as the hardcore fans and everybody (are concerned), this is the real lightweight championship,” Lee said. “McGregor’s got one fight at lightweight, Tony’s got 10 or 11, I’ve got nine or 10. This is for the real lightweight championship because we have the most fights and we’ve already been through all these top contenders.
“You even look at somebody like Conor, he’s only beaten one guy at 155. Khabib (Nurmagomedov) hasn’t beaten anybody in the top 10. So this is for the real lightweight championship and I think that’s what the folks want to see and they want to see it move on, they want to see new blood, and they want to see the new generation. The UFC, they already on that wave, they know I’m the new generation around here. And I’m going to put Tony down and show the rest of them too.”
If anything, it’s a lingering beef with Ferguson that is of far more interest to the 24-year-old Lee. The two actually have a shared history having both wrestled at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and Lee admitted that he was a fan of Ferguson when he saw his fellow Laker embark on an MMA career.
However, their relationship deteriorated after an encounter at International Fight Week in Vegas this year left Lee with a bitter taste in his mouth. According to Lee, he and Ferguson would have thrown down then and there were it not for the intervention of UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
“I’ve said it before, I don’t really give a damn about the belt, I feel like a champion anyway,” Lee said. “So (a fight with Ferguson) makes it a little more fun for me because the man disrespected me and I can’t take disrespect without retaliation. Me and him both know when he walked up on me at International Fight Week, that we was going to get it in.
“I texted him right away - he knew me before we even got into fighting. I used to look up to him. We went to the same college, we alumnae of the same college, he came out a couple of years before me because he got me by a little bit of time. When he was going through The Ultimate Fighter I was still wrestling in college. So I would be supporting him, I would be doing my thing… I’ve always shown him support and I’ve always defended him as the number one contender even over Khabib and for him to come out and try and downplay me and all that, that s**t’s disrespectful. I’m not going to take it lying down, I’ll tell you that.”
Miocic won’t be around on Oct. 7 to bail either man out once the cage door closes. And after Lee settles the score with Ferguson, he’s more than happy to give McGregor a shot at the “real” belt, even if he doesn’t think “The Notorious” will present much of a challenge.
“(McGregor is) the only fight that makes sense. That’s the most logical fight,” Lee said. “Personally, I would like to defend the interim title just because I’ve had my eyes on Khabib for so long that I’ve kind of got excited for that fight a little bit.
“The McGregor fight, it excites me from the standpoint of a promotion and everything, but the actual fight itself, he’s the easiest fight as far as I’m concerned… I’m going to get my hands on the man and throw him around. He’s a little fella too. He’s little, he’s skinny. He’s getting smaller as the days go by. And I’m just now starting into my prime and getting bigger.”