Kevin Lee believes that his loss to Tony Ferguson last October at UFC 216 and his resultant failure to claim the interim lightweight title is going to benefit him in the long term because it has kept him free from the pressures that come with carrying UFC gold at an early, important stage in his development as a martial artist.
Lee, who carried a staph infection into the fight, started well against Ferguson, scoring a takedown in the first, progressing to mount and raining down hard elbows towards the close of the round. Ferguson managed to escape and came back to take the second, but Lee was able to score two more takedowns in the third. It was late in the third, however, that Lee, who seemed to be fading somewhat, fell victim to Ferguson’s dangerous guard. From his back, ‘El Cucuy’ locked on a tight triangle choke and acquired the tap, as well as the title.
Though he admitted to being “devastated” after the fight, time has given Lee a new perspective on the loss.
In a recent interview with Cage Side Submissions Radio, the ‘Motown Phenom’ claimed that fighters often stop experimenting with new techniques, sparring with new partners, visiting new gyms and, as a result, learning once they claim gold because they have a reputation to uphold every time they step onto the mats.
Thus, he now see’s the Ferguson defeat as a “blessing in disguise.”
“I’m only 25, I’m just getting started in the game. I think the sky’s the limit,” Lee said. “Losing the last fight, it’s going to be a blessing in disguise for me really, just because when you get to a certain level, every gym that you step in to the guys are like… if Conor [McGregor] walked into my gym a year or two ago, as soon as he walked in I’d go, ‘Oh, I’m beating the fuck out of him, he’s not learning anything today. There is not going to be any kind of learning curve for him, I’m going to try to hurt him(H/t FanSided).'”
“I think guys get caught up in that, so they quit learning, they stick to what they already know. They stop trying new things just because they don’t want to lose. You don’t want to be the world champion in there getting tapped out.”
“I think it’s a blessing that I don’t walk around with that belt right now just because I’m still in that learning phase.”
Lee’s longtime coach Robert Follis passed away in December so at present the fighter’s camp is in what he described as a “rebuilding” phase. He did, however, add that he expects to return to the octagon in May or June.
Interestingly, that’s the same timeframe Nate Diaz recently gave for his long-awaited return to action, but despite calling him out last month, Lee isn’t expecting to land a fight with the Stockton slugger anytime soon.
“I don’t know how folks jumped on the Nate bandwagon so hard. Folks just think he is such a fighter, but the man doesn’t want to fight, that’s the bottom line,” Lee said. “If a man doesn’t want to fight, I’m not a bully, I’m not going to keep berating him and going at him. He is in and out of Vegas all the time, I see him in the store here a lot. Me and him will get into a little conversation here and there, but I’m not going to berate a man that doesn’t want to fight. If he doesn’t want to fight, ok, we won’t worry about it. He doesn’t want to fight. If he does, he damn sure ain’t going to fight someone like me, he’s going to fight somebody like Eddie [Alvarez] who is on his way out.”
Lee does have two other potential opponents in mind, however. The aforementioned Alvarez is one, while recent Khabib Nurmagomedov victim Edson Barboza is the other.
“Right now, I’m looking at Barboza. I think Barboza is a great fight, a really good matchup for me. He fought a lot of the guys who are at the top and I’m gonna whoop his ass harder than Khabib did,” Lee said. “I’m also looking at somebody like Eddie Alvarez who is up there without a fight, he’s sitting on the sidelines, he’s trying to avoid me as much as he can. There’s a couple of fights that I’m looking at, that I’m interested in. They are not all necessarily above me, obviously. That’s where you want to look but really those rankings don’t mean sh*t, and they don’t mean sh*t to me.”
Lee, who had won five straight before the Ferguson setback, is currently ranked 7th in the UFC’s official lightweight rankings, while Alvarez and Barboza are ranked 3rd and 4th respectively. Neither man has a fight scheduled at present.