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Kevin Lee laments missing out on Khabib Nurmagomedov fight: ‘He never really fought a great wrestler’

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Ahead of a new beginning, Kevin Lee can’t help but look back at the one that got away.

Lee appeared on The MMA Hour this past Monday to talk about his move up to the welterweight division and his upcoming fight with Daniel Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 35 this Saturday in Las Vegas. During his days contending at 155 pounds, “The Motown Phenom” faced many of the division’s best, but a long sought-after matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov eluded him.

Nurmagomedov retired last October as the reigning UFC lightweight champion with an unblemished 29-0 pro record, leading many fans and members of the media to anoint him as one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

Lee isn’t convinced and should Nurmagomedov ever compete again, he’ll be right back to campaigning for a fight with “The Eagle.”

“I’m a f*cking bug,” Lee said. “I’m a f*cking bug, once I got my eyes on you, I’m on you. Nothing that happens can deter it. That’s just a guy I want to test myself against and yeah, he’s a great champion and all that, but people even now are starting to see that he didn’t really have the challenges that he should have had to really be an all-time great. He never really fought a great wrestler and that was something that I was seeing the whole time coming up.

“I feel like now you’re starting to see now that he’s getting a little more vocal and people are sitting back and really looking at the whole career, they’re really seeing it for what it is and not just all this hype and all these Russian bots that kind of get behind him.”

Lee went 11-5 fighting at lightweight (including a pair of bouts that became catchweights after Lee missed weight) and he holds notable victories over Gregor Gillespie, Michael Chiesa, and UFC Vegas 35 headliner Edson Barboza. He also fought Tony Ferguson for an interim lightweight title, losing by third-round submission after a competitive start.

Despite facing a who’s who of the division’s best, Lee can’t help but wonder how his career arc would be different if he’d had the chance to face Nurmagomedov or Nurmagomedov’s teammate, current lightweight contender Islam Makhachev.

“It is a little disappointing,” Lee said when asked about not getting the chance to fight either man. “Sometimes I say a little too much and I feel like they got a good manager. Ali [Abdelaziz]’s a smart man. He’s seen me around a lot and they did they best to keep them on the right path.

“It is a little disappointing that fight never happened with me and Khabib if he doesn’t come back, but I see the man’s out there playing soccer, so who knows maybe I might pick up a soccer ball or something and kick something around and we can have a little one-on-one match one of these days. Who knows?”