Kevin Lee is already sizing up the competition in a new weight class.
“The Motown Phenom” moves up to 170 pounds this Saturday to fight Daniel Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 35, which is Lee’s first appearance in 17 months. Though Lee has competed at welterweight for the UFC previously, it was a one-off against Rafael dos Anjos and he would return to lightweight for two more fights.
However, after missing weight for the second time in his UFC career and losing to future champion Charles Oliveira, Lee is now determined to make it as a welterweight and the way he sees it, he’s already one to watch in the division.
“The 170-pound division I feel like is wide open even though it’s got the pound-for-pound champ [Kamaru Usman] sitting at the top,” Lee said on The MMA Hour. “It’s kind of wide open and I feel like he need a real challenger. It seems like timing and everything just works right for me to go ahead and take over this division. I feel like I’m already top-5, so this is gonna be one of them fights to show what level of difference that I got.”
.@MoTownPhenom feels he's "already Top 5" in the #UFC welterweight division:— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) August 24, 2021
"I see nobody around that can bring what I bring to the table."
Watch full interview from #theMMAhour: https://t.co/a1hO2aa0ga pic.twitter.com/GbGa3bsRI9
“I look at these guys, I look at skill-for-skill, and like I said, I’ve been shying away from media and all this stuff for the last year almost,” Lee continued. “And I’ve been watching this whole time. I see nobody around here. I see nobody that can bring what I bring to the table. I see nobody that got the skills that I got and can do everything in a complete package.I don’t see none of ‘em. So yeah, it’s me.”
“[Usman’s] a great champ, I’ll give it to him,” Lee said. “But I don’t think he’s really been challenged yet by anybody and I’m here to give him that challenge.”
“Leon not really up there,” Lee continued. “Colby’s gonna put up a good fight. Leon would make a good fight, but he’s gonna have to—he don’t bring the complete package. He might have some decent fighting skills, but it takes more than that in this game I feel like.”
In regards to being “the complete package,” Lee speaks from experience as he was a mainstay at the top of the lightweight division for years. He has headlined multiple UFC events, including UFC 216 where he fought Tony Ferguson for a vacant lightweight championship.
“There’s some big names, there’s some decent names, but they still don’t do sh*t,” Lee said. “Really, all those names that you named, do any of them really do s*it? No. You know it, they don’t do sh*t. So we’ll see.”
Though Lee sees big things ahead for himself in a new weight class, he has to get past the dangerous Rodriguez first. Rodriguez has made a significant impact in the UFC since debuting with the promotion in February of last year, winning five of his first six UFC fights with victories over Mike Perry and Tim Means.
Lee’s welterweight debut was supposed to take place against Sean Brady, but both fighters were forced to move on from the matchup after the booking fell through twice previously. He admits that he initially knew little about Rodriguez, but after digging into his opponent’s backstory he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I was a little disappointed at first, but there’s two things: one, I’m the one that’s the name on the card,” Lee said. “I would have made Sean Brady’s name and I feel like I’m gonna make Rodriguez’s name. So the name part didn’t really bother me, I just wanted a good fight.
“But I felt better about the fight once people actually started calling me about it and a lot of people that I know on the street that had heard of this dude before from all his time in prison and all the different street fights and stuff like that that he’s had. I put a lot of respect on that. I feel like people kind of overlook that a little bit, but I respect 200 street fights just as much as I’d respect 200 amateur boxing matches. I feel like those are even closer to MMA fights, so I feel like he’s got a lot of experience and he’s gonna put up a good fight.”