Kevin Lee knows just about everybody had written him off.
The 27-year-old Detroit native once was hailed as a potential threat to reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. But two losses in a row, including a brief stop at 170 pounds, knocked the luster off the promising prospect.
Rather than get mired in negativity, Lee picked himself up and made necessary changes in his training camp, including a move to Montreal, where he began training under head coach Firas Zahabi and his team at Tristar.
After watching the bandwagon empty out after his losses, he told MMA Fighting, “it feels f*cking good.”
“A lot of people wrote me off,” Lee continued. “They took me out of some conversations that I definitely should have been a part of, and they’re still going to do it now. It’s just part of the game. But it’s my job to go out there and keep reminding people every single time I fight. That’s been one of the focuses for me.”
With the win over Gillespie under his belt, Lee isn’t going to take much time to celebrate, because he’s already started thinking about what could come next.
Immediately after his fight in New York, Lee mentioned Islam Makhachev as a potential opponent after mutual callouts in various interviews. But ultimately he felt that fight would have been much bigger if it took place in Makhachev’s native Russia. With the UFC visiting Moscow this past weekend, a return date was unclear.
In a perfect world, Lee has an opponent in mind for his next fight. But he’s quite certain that the nightmare matchup that he represents will prevent his dream from becoming reality.
“They’re still trying to find an opponent for Conor McGregor on Jan. 18,” Lee said. “I know they’re talking about “Cowboy” [Donald Cerrone], but there’s no contract signed there. If he’s a little bit like me, if he’s a competitor at his heart, then he’s going to want to take on the tough wrestler. He should if he wants to get back to Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and really wants to get back into title contention. That fight would make sense.
“It’s not going to happen. I’ll be real. It’s not going to happen. They’re not going to let me within 10 feet of that man, but these are the things that I kind of see.”
The last time McGregor appeared in the UFC, he suffered a fourth-round rear naked choke submission loss to Nurmagomedov, and he’s been itching for a rematch ever since.
McGregor recently took it upon himself to announce plans for a return to action at a UFC card currently scheduled for Jan. 18. Early talks reportedly leaned toward Cerrone.
While Cerrone is obviously no slouch, Lee feels like it’s a favorable matchup for McGregor versus jumping back into the deep end of the lightweight division with another noted grappler standing across the cage.
“I think a lot of real fans will see that and know that,” Lee explained. “I don’t think he’s willing to do what I’ll do. I don’t think he’s willing to take on the guy who’s on the up and up. You’ve got your back up against the wall, and he’s trying to make a name off of you. I think they’re going to avoid those types of fights.
“I think they’ll avoid me, they’ll avoid [Justin] Gaethje, (and) they’re going to avoid some of these other guys who can really give him a challenge.”
As much as McGregor has been dubbed the “money” fight in the UFC, Lee is more interested in the matchup from a competitive standpoint as he looks to climb back into title contention himself.
In fact, Lee revealed that he’s currently on the final fight in his contract with the UFC, and he’d be more than willing to bet on himself against McGregor in order to set himself up for the future.
“I’ve got one fight left on my contract,” he said. “If that’s the fight, I’ll take it at the money I’m at right now, to be honest with you. I think it would be way bigger than him versus ‘Cowboy.’ But that ain’t for me to say. If they call me, I’m all ears.”
If McGregor doesn’t answer the call as expected, Lee has a few lightweights in mind who he’s confident would never shy away from the challenge.
“A fight here in Vegas, me and [Paul] Felder, me and [Justin] Gaethje, me and [Anthony] Pettis,” Lee said. “Somebody who’s going to have to have some skill and put on a good fight to move me closer to that title.”
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