Kevin Lee was hit with a wave of emotions after he received news on Tuesday that he was being released from the UFC.
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow was just how impersonal it all felt after the former interim lightweight title challenger received an -email from a coordinator at the UFC rather than one of the matchmakers or executives like UFC president Dana White or chief business officer Hunter Campbell.
“That was kind of the worst part about it,” Lee said when appearing on The MMA Hour. “Didn’t really have the proper notice or even really have a phone call about it.
“At first, I was shocked a little bit. I didn’t really understand what was going on. Then once I talked to my manager, agent and kind of made sure it was official, I hopped on the phone with a bunch of other people. Pissed and a little bit embarrassed and it really doesn’t make much sense to me.”
According to Lee, no one from the UFC actually reached out to him about the release other than the e-mail he received so he eventually reached out to Campbell over the phone.
“I heard from Hunter, he kind of fed me some bullsh*t,” Lee said. “But not from nobody else. I reached out to him. I found his number. That’s the main thing that kind of pisses me off about this. When we’re in the UFC, that’s really all you’re fighting for is your respect. People respect you for being a UFC fighter when they hear the name, like they automatically give you some respect. We’re not doing it really for the money. Ain’t a whole lot of fame in this sh*t.
“I’ve done all this sh*t for y’all. I’ve put myself and my body on the line just to end up with an alcohol problem and a tax problem and at the end of the day, you take my respect away from me, too? It’s like OK, well sh*t. I’m going to stop right there.”
Following a lackluster outing in his return to welterweight back in August, Lee suspected that he might be on thin ice with the UFC, especially after he heard some post-fight comments from White when addressing his performance that night.
“I had a feeling once that last fight was over — and it was sh*t fight, I’m the first to admit that ±— once that last fight was over and Dana [White] was kind of talking bad on me, I had a feeling like something else was going on,” Lee said.
“I don’t think it necessarily had to do with the fight. Of course, that’s what they’re going to tell me. I’m on a two-fight losing streak or whatever. One was to the world champion [Charles Oliveira] but I think there was more politics and stuff going on behind the scenes and I got caught in the middle of that.”
As far as outside issues that may have led to his release, Lee didn’t want to speculate too much, although he couldn’t help but feel like his relationship with his management team at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) — a talent agency rival to the UFC owners at Endeavor — along with clashes between the promotion and fellow CAA fighter Francis Ngannou could have potentially played a part.
“I just know it was more than just the fight,” Lee said. “I know it was more than my fighting skills and I know it was more than what’s on the surface.
“We’re speculating right now. Dana didn’t call me on the phone and tell me that. We’re speculating but if I was speculating right, I would think so.”
Add to that, Lee still can’t figure out why the UFC waited until three months after his last fight to actually release him from the promotion.
“I wish they would have already told me this two months ago,” Lee lamented. “I would have already been fighting by now. I wanted to fight in December. I wouldn’t have to serve this suspension in Nevada. So I don’t know. It’s kind of a d*ck move isn’t it? It kind of pisses you off, don’t it?
“I guess [the decision to release me] happened two weeks ago on Nov. 17 is when they finalized it but they didn’t tell me till yesterday. Like I said, it was by email. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know the politics behind it. I don’t know if other people were in negotiations. I don’t know what’s going on. It would have been nice to have a conversation and be able to fight out my contract.”
At just 29, Lee still has plenty of time left in the sport and he’s excited to see what comes next but even with a few impressive wins, the Detroit native isn’t certain that he’ll ever cross paths with the UFC again.
“A lot of people telling me not to bash them and keep the bridge open,” Lee said. “‘You can come back at some point.’ I don’t really want to. Why would I want to work with somebody who is going to disrespect me like that? That’s crazy. That’s the only thing we fight for in this game.
“My only goal and objective right now is to show that they just made one of the worst mistakes that they did. I’ll be a millionaire within a year or so. So that’s fun.”
Lee revealed that within the past 24 hours, his management team has already received interest from three different suitors including Triller Fight Club.
No decision has been made about his next promotional home, although with a six-month suspension in place through February 2022 due to a failed drug test following his last fight, Lee might just wait until that’s over to ink a deal with anybody.
Until then, Lee is certainly ready to listen to offers and he promises the highest bidder is going to win.
“I’m a prize fighter. So at the end of the day, I’m going to go to who pays me the most,” Lee said. “PFL do got their million dollar tournament but there’s a lot of ways to make millions out here. I can make a whole lot more than I did with the UFC even.
“I’ve had top billing spots with the UFC, about eight main events, so that’s a lot of millions put towards marketing. I’m going to leverage that now. There is a part of me that does want to thank the UFC for all of that. They made me famous in the game at least.”