It’s no secret that the light-weight division, whereas nonetheless being the perfect and most talent-rich weight class in all of blended martial arts, can also be a little bit of a large number. It has been for some time.
UFC light-weight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is suspended for his UFC 229 post-fight melee and can doubtless be sidelined till late 2019. The division’s rightful No. 1 contender, Tony Ferguson, is sidelined indefinitely resulting from private points. The division’s former champion and largest star, Conor McGregor, is successfully sidelined indefinitely of his personal volition, or not less than till he decides he needs to struggle once more. Likewise for Nate Diaz.
All of that uncertainty has led to a crippling logjam atop the UFC’s 155-pound roster, which can solely get additional sophisticated as soon as Dustin Poirier and featherweight champion Max Holloway battle for an interim light-weight title at UFC 236.
So with no clear and intelligible path to get to the place he needs to be within the light-weight title image, high contender Kevin Lee figured that now’s pretty much as good of a time as any to attempt his hand out within the welterweight division, which is what he’ll do when he makes his 170-pound debut in opposition to Rafael dos Anjos on Could 18 in the primary occasion of UFC Rochester.
“Numerous [the lightweight division] kinda went stagnant, which is an actual disgrace,” Lee mentioned Monday on The MMA Hour. “I imply, it’s all the time been probably the greatest divisions within the UFC. There’s simply so many ups and so many questions. And a part of me was like, that is the place I mentioned I needed to be, and that is the place I began and the place I’m gonna end, particularly with preventing Khabib. However after I checked out it, like, okay, I’m not going to take a seat round and wait.
“It’s too many politics happening. Such as you mentioned, Max is now preventing Dustin, Tony’s sitting out — which, I’m unhappy about that entire state of affairs — and all these different issues, and no one needs to struggle, and guys solely need these sure fights simply to push them up, and Conor’s kinda calling the pictures nonetheless. And I’m like, you understand what, f*ck all of this. I’m largely apprehensive about me anyway. To me, I’m the highest canine. So it’s what’s finest for my profession and going ahead.
“These fights are nonetheless going to be on the market,” continued Lee. “I nonetheless am 100 % assured I could make 155 once more, however we’ll see after. I choose this struggle at 170; 155, they should get their shit collectively. That’s all. I feel it’ll come collectively in direction of the top of this 12 months, however I wasn’t about to take a seat round and await them.”
The transfer to welterweight is smart for Lee. As he will get older, the 26-year-old Michigan native has more and more struggled to make the 155-pound light-weight restrict. He outright missed weight final 12 months for his victory over Edson Barboza and has lengthy been an advocate for the creation of a 165-pound division.
However the timing additionally is smart as effectively. Whether or not it’s Robert Whittaker turning into a UFC champion at 185 kilos, or former middleweights Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith making title runs at 205 kilos, the development of fighters discovering success by transferring up a division and preventing nearer to their pure weight has by no means been extra prevalent. For extra relatable examples, Lee must look no additional than Anthony Pettis and Jorge Masvidal, two longtime lightweights who immediately discover themselves within the thick of issues at 170 kilos after lately knocking out former welterweight title challengers.
“I’m about 181 (kilos). I used to get a lot heavier, however I’ve been about 180, 181 since actually the previous 12 months or year-and-a-half,” Lee mentioned.
“Once I have a look at different guys, perhaps [I’ll be on the smaller end of welterweight], however Pettis simply confirmed too, this final Saturday, generally that measurement actually doesn’t matter, particularly while you’re speaking about pace and sturdiness. … I really feel like I can out-technique numerous these guys. Once I see even numerous their wrestling at 170, numerous it is rather fundamental. So I really feel like approach, pace, and sturdiness will outlast their energy. I’ll let you understand after Could 18th the way it all goes down. I’m kinda figuring sh*t out with you.”
Lee mentioned his transfer to 170 kilos isn’t everlasting. He’s nonetheless holding the door open for a possible return to the light-weight division as soon as the title image figures itself out, however he additionally isn’t ruling out a run towards the UFC’s welterweight championship if issues go effectively in opposition to dos Anjos. For now, each choice is in play, which is an thrilling chance for Lee and one which he mentioned has put a brand new “pep in his step” forward of UFC Rochester.
“We’ll need to see the way it shakes up,” Lee mentioned. “Such as you mentioned, Pettis appeared nice, Masvidal appeared nice, you’ve nonetheless acquired (Ben) Askren on the market, you’ve acquired (Santiago) Ponzinibbio, you’ve acquired Leon Edwards. And like I mentioned, (Kamaru) Usman’s now the champ, so Mama Woodley warned him — I’m right here, I’m coming for him. So I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s been nothing however respect between me and Usman, and I kinda wish to nonetheless honor that. However as a competitor, I’m most likely going to be on his heels. We’ll see. We’ll see after the struggle.”
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