Michael Chiesa wants to set the record straight on Kevin Lee.
Following the news that Li Jingliang would no longer be fighting Chiesa at UFC 287 due to a spinal injury, Lee made a post on Instagram in which he claimed that Chiesa declined to accept him as a replacement opponent for Saturday’s card. Chiesa and Lee previously fought at UFC Oklahoma City in June 2017, with Lee winning via rear-naked choke submission at the end of the first round.
Chiesa appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to shoot down Lee’s story.
“Come on, when does that guy say anything that’s true?” Chiesa said. “He’s just trying to find a way to fit into the equation, or one of his little nuances he says.
“No, Kevin Lee was never offered to us. That was never pitched to us. That name never slid across our desk. My theory is him and Li have the same manager, Ali [Abdelaziz], and I think that they tried to pull the, ‘Hey, Li is out, this Lee is in.’ I think they tried to pitch that, and to my understanding, Sean [Shelby] and the UFC, they’re the ones that shot it down. It wasn’t shot down on our side of things.
“Would I love to silence Kevin Lee and shut him up? Absolutely. That was not something that was proposed to us. I think it’s something more that they proposed to the powers that be and the powers that be said, ‘No.’ As Nick Diaz would say, ‘Don’t be buying those wolf tickets.’ You guys are eating up them wolf tickets.”
Lee parted ways with the UFC at the end of 2021, but after a one-fight stint with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC promotion that saw him beat Diego Sanchez, “The Motown Phenom” re-signed with the UFC earlier this year.
No opponent has been booked for Lee’s return yet. Chiesa thinks that his social media activity is just a way for Lee to stay relevant.
“That’s just what that generation of people do,” Chiesa said. “Kevin and these young guys, they like to just throw things out there. Throw things and the wall and see what sticks. ‘Yeah, Chiesa turned me down.’
“Whatever you’ve got to tell yourself to pump yourself up, go for it bud, because you’re going to need it because we will fight down the line. That’s a fight that’s going to happen again. I think that if I was him, it would be in his best interests to take that win and run with it because it’s not going to go very well for him if we rematch.”
When Lee defeated Chiesa in their first encounter, it capped off a five-fight win streak for Lee that propelled him into a vacant interim lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson, which Ferguson then won by third-round submission. Since then, both Chiesa and Lee have moved up to the welterweight division.
Their first fight in Oklahoma City ended in controversy when referee Mario Yamasaki waved off the bout due to a technical submission, ruling that Chiesa had lost consciousness in a Lee choke. However, Chiesa immediately sprang up to argue the call, and later attempted an appeal that was denied by the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission.
Chiesa has plenty of praise for Lee, but warns that if he has hopes of making a run to the welterweight title, chasing a rematch might not be the best way to do it.
“Let me put my analyst hat on,” Chiesa said. “I think that this guy is very young. He’s got a wealth of experience against top-tier competition. He’s been in there with Charles Oliveira, Edson Barboza, Tony Ferguson, myself. He’s only fought top-caliber competition through his last eight fights in the UFC. Basically, from Francisco Trinaldo on, he’s fought killers. This is a guy with a wealth of experience, and if he can find a way to stay healthy and if he can put himself in the right positions, meaning the camp, the training partners, the management ... you put those pieces together, I think he can make another run at the title.
“but that run at that title will come after my time in the sport has come and gone, because if we ever fight again, I’ll beat him.”