A couple of weeks ago, Ariel Helwani reported that the UFC were targeting a bout between former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez for later in the year, adding that the pair were also being considered as potential coaches for ‘The Ultimate Fighter 26’.
However, shortly thereafter, another top lightweight contender, Kevin Lee, claimed that he had already accepted a role as coach on the upcoming season of the reality show, that Alvarez had turned down the opportunity to coach opposite him, and that he was awaiting Gaethje’s decision.
— Kevin MTP Lee (@MoTownPhenom) July 11, 2017
In the end, though, Helwani’s report was vindicated, as the UFC announced that Gaethje and Alvarez will act as coaches on the show, at the end of which the promotion will crown it’s inaugural women’s flyweight champion. Gaethje and Alvarez will also face off in the octagon after the show concludes.
Speaking to MMAJunkie recently, Lee said that he was frustrated with the UFC’s decision to go with Alvarez and Gaethje as coaches, before absolutely trashing his rivals and giving a grim forecast for the ‘TUF 26’.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said Lee. “I think if you even ask anybody in the UFC, and they say (me vs. Gaethje) is the better fight to make. That’s the better TV. If they really wanted to push ‘TUF,’ I think that would’ve been the better option, and I think if you ask anybody in the know, they would’ve said the same thing.”
“You’ve got Eddie, and you’ve got Gaethje, who are both brain dead. They’re going to go in there, they’re going to talk, and they’re going to slur some words at each other. Nobody is going to watch it. It’s going to be terrible. I feel sorry for the women on the show, because they’re not going to get as many eyeballs.”
Lee didn’t stop there. He also went on to disparage Gaethje’s recent win over Michael Johnson.
“Johnson, to me, he’s a journeyman,” said ‘The Motown Phenom’. “He’s always been a journeyman. And apparently beating Michael Johnson really means something in this game. You had Khabib (Nurmagomedov) that beat him, and people think he’s the No. 1 contender for beating Michael Johnson. To me, Mike’s a journeyman. What else can you say? I think he quit in the first minute of the first round. You see it in his eyes.
“You see in the first round (that) he quits, and he’s still able to hurt Gaethje. He’s still able to hurt him just off his skill and just off them back-the-(expletive)-up-off-me punches. You look at Gaethje’s skill, he’s basic. He’s hitable. He likes to be hit. I want to see how many punches he can take against a dangerous fighter.”
While Lee is riding an impressive five-fight winning-streak during which he has finished four opponents, Eddie Alvarez has suffered a TKO defeat and been involved in a ‘No Contest’ in his last two fights. In the latter bout, against Dustin Poirier, Alvarez looked on the verge of a second straight stoppage loss just moments before a foul on his part brought proceedings to a controversial conclusion. Given Alvarez’s poor recent form, Lee feels that the undefeated Gaethje has little to gain from this match-up.
“If Gaethje beats me, you say, ‘Oh, he beats a smart fighter,'” Lee said. “If he knocks Eddie out in the first round, the story line will be that Eddie’s done. The story line won’t be that Gaethje’s a great fighter.”
One can certainly understand Lee’s frustration with the way things have played out. The UFC lightweight division, in which he is ranked seventh, is talent-rich but it’s also stagnant and there aren’t many big fight opportunities out there for Lee.
The lightweight champion, Conor McGregor, is set to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. next month. The two top-ranked contenders, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, are likely to meet later this year for an interim belt, as long as Nurmagomedov doesn’t decide to chill on the sidelines and await the return of McGregor. Alvarez and Gaethje, ranked third and fifth respectively, are now booked. And Nate Diaz, who occupies the spot directly above Lee, is borderline retired. Thus, the only big name out there for him right now is Edson Barboza, who sits fourth in the rankings.