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Kevin Lee on MMA’s weight-cutting issues: ‘Everybody is kind of waiting for somebody to die’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Kevin Lee has had just about enough of extreme weight cutting in mixed martial arts.

The UFC lightweight has been among the most vocal fighters in the sport about the issue of weight cutting by means of severe dehydration. Lee has been pushing for the UFC to institute a 165-pound division for more than a year at this point. And he does not plan on quieting down.

“Everybody knows that this weight-cutting thing is a problem, but nobody is coming up with no f*cking solutions,” Lee told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “Everybody is kind of waiting for somebody to die. And I don’t feel like that’s the right thing to do. I think you have to take at least one step in the right direction and then just see how it goes. There’s really no downside to it.”

Lee pointed out that the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) has been active in trying to combat extreme weight cutting in MMA, with its 10-point reform plan. One of the things Lee believes in the most is more weight classes, specifically the addition of the 165-pound division. Last year, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) approved 165 pounds — or super lightweight — as an official weight class. But the UFC has yet to adopt it.

Lee, 25, currently fights in the 155-pound weight class and walks around in the neighborhood of 178, he said. A cut like that — or worse — is common for lightweight fighters, Lee said. But he believes he’s not big enough to move up to welterweight, because those athletes are cutting down from 190 to north of 200 pounds to make that 170-pound weight class and are much taller. Fighting them would not be safe, either.

A 165-pound division and moving 170 pounds to 175 would help remedy some of the weight-cutting issues, Lee believes.

“Most people, especially 155ers that I talk to, they all want it,” he said. “We all are about the same size. A lot of these [lightweights] are [185, 190]. … We’re all doing the same thing to compete against each other. It doesn’t make sense. If we can make it a little bit safer and we can make it a little bit more fair, that’s all I’m calling for. Just a fair, even playing field for me to go out there and compete with somebody without having to kill myself to do it.”

With regards to the spread of athletes among divisions at 155, 165 and 175, Lee doesn’t think the UFC would miss a beat.

“There’s so many guys, there’s so much talent,” Lee said. “The talent is there. It’s the same thing they said about adding 125 for the women. Yeah, it’s gonna take some time to cultivate that, but I think it’s gonna even be easier, because you have so many guys in between these weight classes right now that could fill that up. Where it’s at is the talent is always gonna show up.”

Lee had a brutal weight cut at UFC 216 last October, one he said “damn near killed” him. He’s not the only one — weight-cutting medical crises happen regularly. Uriah Hall, Lee’s teammate in Las Vegas, suffered a seizure and a mild heart attack cutting weight earlier this year. Khabib Nurmagomedov has been rushed to the hospital while cutting weight, Johny Hendricks suffered kidney failure. The list goes on.

No one in the UFC has died from weight cutting, but it has happened elsewhere, like in Brazil. ONE Championship had a fighter die while cutting weight in 2015 and immediately introduced sweeping reform.

That’s why Lee believes something tragic like that will have to happen in the UFC for real change to be made.

“That’s what it’s gonna take,” Lee said. “It’s unfortunate. And people kind of gloss over it, too. Uriah Hall, who I train with, the man had a seizure cutting weight for fights. It kind of gets swept under the rug. And it kind of goes, ‘Oh, he was doing his own thing.’ … The man had a seizure getting ready for a fight. That’s not a joke. Its more serious than I think people realize. And it’s my health on the line, too, along with it. If all I gotta do is just step up and talk about it and try and make some change happen, then that’s what I’m gonna do. But the rest of these mother f*ckers, they’re too scared. They won’t do it, because they don’t want to step up and say what they really feel.”

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