Four months removed from his UFC release and just days away from headlining Eagle FC 46, Kevin Lee is admittedly still conflicted about how the relationship with his former promotion ended.
It was a stunning turn of events considering the 29-year-old former interim lightweight title challenger had long been touted as a future champion with highlight reel performances over the likes of Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa and Gregor Gillespie.
Adding even more confusion to the situation was how the UFC waited until two months after his last loss to actually drop him from the roster. Lee is unable to understand the UFC’s move, but he insists that there has been no animosity toward the UFC since then.
“I still have some questions about [with my release],” Lee’s explanation to The Fighter. The Writer . The Writer. So that part, it’s still some figuring out that needs to be done but as far as ill will, there’s zero.
“There’s zero ill will on my end towards the UFC. It just happened at the perfect time for me. It may not have been the time that I saw or would have wanted but ultimately, it just came at the right time.”
The bitterness after receiving the news finally gave way to Lee’s appreciation of the UFC career.
While the native of Detroit knew his worth in the sport, Lee was pleased to find out that his talents were recognized after receiving offers from various promotions. Lee signed a four-fight contract with Eagle FC (the promotion operated and owned by Khabib Nurmagomedov), which was a lucrative deal.
“I got the attention of the entire world by my time in there,” Lee said. “It’s so much s*** I can do off of that. It’s not a matter of good will. I learned a lot from them. There were many good lessons. I had 18 fights. They can’t take that away. When I walk into a restaurant or I walk into the mall or I walk anywhere, I’m built different now. I move different and I feel like people can tell that.
“I’ve had these experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else and a lot of other guys in the UFC wouldn’t get half of the experience that I even got. .”
will not be hurt.
Lee was only seven fights into his career when he first signed with the UFC and that’s where he spent the next seven years in his career.
As soon as he hit the free-agent market, he learned rather quickly that there are definitely a lot of opportunities available outside the UFC and that helped to give him some important perspective.
” We can’t take too much away from UFC – although they do an amazing job of promotion but it is kinda sucks to be famous and not being wealthy,” Lee said. Lee explained that this is not the ultimate goal. This is America. We value the dollar more than anything. Be rich first and then be famous.
“When I’m giving advice to young fighters on what they should do and where they should be, I tell them the UFC ain’t top dog no more. Maybe in terms of promotion but if you just want people to know who you are, you can do a whole lot more s*** that this. If you’re in it to provide for your family and do some other stuff, there’s some more options out there.”
While overall terms of his deal with Eagle FC haven’t been disclosed, Lee revealed that he’s earning a lot more money now than he ever did with the UFC and that also comes along with a less restrictive contract.
“It’s twice as good as what the UFC is treating me,” Lee said about his pay in Eagle FC. “It’s nice. I cannot complain.
“It’s the language of the contract that’s a whole lot better and me as a person, me as a brand, I’m always going to be me, 10, 20, 30 years from now. So it’s kind of nice to own some of those rights.”
Lee argues that fighters seeing these kinds of opportunities will only help the sport evolve over time because competition fuels the open market when it comes to overall pay.
He concedes that the UFC is still the biggest show where the highest profile stars can make the most money in all of mixed martial arts but not everybody is making Conor McGregor money.
“The more we make as fighters, the bigger the sport gets,” Lee said. “You talk about these young kids and if I’m a 12-year-old athletic kid, am I going to go to football where I can make $5 or $6 million contract or am I going to go to the UFC and make $50,000 a year or $100,000 at best a year.
“I feel like the more that we get these Floyd Mayweather level pay-per-views and bigger payouts, will get the sport even bigger.”
With a roster nearing 700 fighters, the UFC can also boast the deepest divisions in the sport but Lee also knows there’s plenty of talent in other organizations.
In his Eagle FC debut this Friday, Lee will take on a bona fide legend in The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez and he’s confident there will be no shortage of big-name opponents in the future as well.
” The competition will always be there,” Lee stated. “The best fighters ain’t necessarily in the UFC. I even see that working down here at Sanford [MMA]. There’s a lot of top level 170, 155 pounders that you haven’t heard of that aren’t in the UFC.
“This is a global sport. There’s people in Russia and Japan and Australia and all these places where you can only hear about so many guys but there’s so much competition out there.”
Lee is excited to be able to compete in the weight class he believes is his natural weight.
For several years, Lee wanted the UFC to add a 165-pound division — a move several other top stars have requested as well — but Dana White always shot it down.
With plans to become champion at his new home in Eagle FC, he will actually be competing as a super-lightweight in Eagle FC.
“The biggest thing for me, I’m going to be a world champion at 165 pounds,” Lee said. “I will be the best man in the world for anybody who’s willing to weigh in at 165 pounds. .”
It doesn’t matter who you’re against.