Now, Nurmagomedov is a business partner.
“It’s crazy how the world works,” Lee said Wednesday on The MMA Hour after announcing his deal with Nurmagomedov’s MMA promotion, Eagle FC. “A big reason you ask for a fight like that is to gain his respect. Now, I can get that in a different way with being business partners with him.
“I feel like we can accomplish a lot in this sport and we can do a lot that these other promotions that I fail to mention just ain’t doing. Our paths were never one built on animosity – it was moreso I saw what he was capable of way before anybody else did and way before he became a champion. That’s why I wanted to fight him. I see what he can do now as being a promoter after his fighting career.”
Lee said he was contacted by Nurmagomedov’s longtime manager, Ali Abdelaziz, about the prospect of fighting for Eagle FC after a trip to the Caribbean. “The Motown Phenom” wanted to clear his head after a depressing departure from the UFC, which came via email after nearly an eight-year career and offered few explanations for his departure. Walking through an airport, Lee was encouraged by the number of people that recognized him and realized he was still a valued commodity.
Four different promoters offered a deal, Lee said, but none came with the sweeteners of Eagle FC.
“With Khabib backing it, and him already being a champ, a fighter, and knowing the sh*t we go through, it made him stand out more than any of the other promoters,” he said.
One aspect of Lee’s deal definitely stands out: It’s entirely paid in Bitcoin. The world’s most popular cryptocurrency will be paid out in figures “equivalent to US dollars,” he said, and is “worth millions of dollars.” An early adopter, Lee said Bitcoin helped float him during an extended injury layoff due to a pair of serious knee injuries.
Lee also said his deal includes the option to co-promote with Eagle FC, bringing it closer to the profit-sharing known with major-name stars in boxing.
“Pretty much everything about it is better than my UFC deal,” Lee said. “The only difference is that there’s no [UFC Performance Institute] – what the f*ck does that mean to me?
“There was nothing about the UFC that was better. Maybe the eyeballs for fighting on ESPN, that’s big. But a lot of guys are getting lost in the shuffle these days. Honestly, it was better all around the board. Free agency is amazing.”
After years of calling to fight Nurmagomedov, Lee met the former UFC lightweight champion for the first time in person during a press conference in Miami, where he’ll relocate to stay close to work and train at the renowned Sanford MMA gym in South Florida. Tristar chief Firas Zahabi will remain his head coach.
Lee sensed nothing but respect from his onetime rival.
“I’m going to go out there and shed some blood for him,” he said of Nurmagomedov.
A March 11 debut is Lee’s current target, and he plans to compete exclusively at 165 pounds, the division he long campaigned for the UFC to open and is now being utilized by Eagle. Diego Sanchez has been discussed as a potential debut opponent, though Lee added a title shot is not in his near future.
“[One-hundred sixty-five pounds] is something that’s inevitable,” he said. “This is the first one. The is the inaugural, I’ll be the first champ, so it’s a bit of history there.”