Kevin Lee has been making sacrifices for years, enduring big weight cuts to make the lightweight division. Ahead of his welterweight debut at UFC Rochester, he discussed the mindset of cutting weight, his expectation of a bloodbath with Rafael dos Anjos, and more.
Rochester, NY — It’s something of a theme at UFC Rochester. Moving up in weight, that is. Sijara Eubanks is doing it, leaving the flyweight division quite possibly for good. Charles Jourdain is doing it, sort of — the natural featherweight will face Des Green at lightweight, but he’s fully intending to return to 145lbs afterward. Most notably, however, Kevin Lee is moving up to welterweight. There, he’ll take on another former lightweight, ex-155lb champ Rafael dos Anjos. The bout serves as the Fight Night card’s main event.
It has, perhaps, been a long time coming. Lee has struggled to make weight in the past, putting his body through hell, and missed weight at UFC Atlantic City last year by a single pound. The look of dejection on Lee’s face that day will not be easily forgotten. Lee would win the fight, then go on to lose a rematch against Al Iaquinta in December.
He made weight for that one, but it was still time to move up. Now, he told media outlets including Cageside Press at the UFC Rochester media day, he finally gets the “fair fight” he’s been looking for.
“I’ve always said, from the beginning, I’m really just looking for a fair fight,” Lee explained, two days out from his 170lb debut. “Having to dehydrate yourself, I think it really just takes a lot from the fight. We don’t get to fight as often, too. Because when you’re doing these big weight cuts, you need a lot of time to recover from that. And then I can only do it two or three times a year. I feel like if I didn’t have to do that, I could fight a lot more, and you’ll get a better fight out of me.”
During those grueling cuts might have been when Lee finally decided enough was enough. But, as he pointed out, “there’s a lot of thoughts that go through your head during that. ‘I should be doing a 9 to 5 right now, what am I doing? I’m crazy!'”
“But you know,” he added, “this is what we do. We sacrifice our bodies and we sacrifice our health for the sport and for the art.”
He admitted, though, that “Yeah those moments [of doubt] are going to creep in, of course.” Beyond that, “a lot of people had been telling me to go to 170 beforehand anyway. But I kind of flow to my own rhythm.”
Lee has been asked what advice he would give his younger self. A 21 year old, fresh-faced kid entering the UFC. “There really wouldn’t be much I could say,” he answered. “Sometimes you gotta go through these things to understand what it is that you’re doing. You’ve gotta have those experience, you’ve gotta lose in order to win.”
The includes making weight. “Going through those tough weight cuts, they take so much mental energy, they take so much, it’s so hard, everything in your body’s screaming ‘why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing [this], drink some water, please!’ When you go through that, you’ve got to fight that, I feel like it’s just making you stronger.”
So is welterweight the next step in Kevin Lee’s career? More accurately, is it a permanent home? “We’ll see how this whole things goes,” he said Thursday. “This is my first fight at 170, I’ll see how I feel in the cage. It’s hard for me to say outside of it, and without having that yet, but ask me on Sunday and I’ll let you know.”
One thing he hasn’t done is bulked up much ahead of the fight. “I’m still about the same size. I put on a few extra, just by not going to a calorie deficit, but I’m still about the same size as my peak weight as an athlete.” Which gives him room to go either way, really. He’s not worried about opponent Rafael dos Anjos having a strength advantage, however. “I feel I’m going to be real strong, I’ve sparred with a lot of middleweights getting ready for this fight, just so I get used to that extra strength, and used to the extra size. I’m going to be ready.”
Dos Anjos, however, is one of the fighters Lee looked at when deciding to move up in weight. “There was a couple guys. Anthony Pettis did the same thing. Jorge Masvidal. There was a couple guys that kind of already showed we can still have a fair fight. Yeah it definitely helped the decision for sure.”
As to what he’s expecting come Saturday night, Lee stuck to the line he’s been giving all throughout the build-up to the fight. “A bloodbath. I mean that very seriously,” he said. RDA, for his part, told reporters he doesn’t expect it’ll be his face bleeding at UFC Rochester. “If he don’t, then he gonna be in for a rude awakening when he sees the blood running down his face and into his eyes,” Lee retorted. “I’m expecting a war. He’s going to come forward, I’m going to come forward, and we’ll see who takes a step back.”
Watch the full UFC Rochester media day press scrum with Kevin Lee above!