It's no secret that the lightweight division, while still the best and most talented weight class in all mixed martial arts, is also a bit of a mess. It's been a while.
UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is suspended for his UFC 229 post-fight scrum and will likely be absent until the end of 2019. The competitor No. 1 of the division, Tony Ferguson, is indefinitely set aside for personal reasons. The former champion and the biggest star in the division, Conor McGregor, is effectively thrown out of his own free will, or at least until he decides to fight again. Likewise for Nate Diaz.
All this uncertainty has led to a paralyzing stalemate at the top of the UFC's 155-pound line-up, which will only be complicated when Dustin Poirier and featherweight champion Max Holloway compete for an interim lightweight title UFC 236.
So without a clear and understandable path to where he wants to be in the lightweight title photo, lead candidate Kevin Lee realized that the time was right to try his luck in the weight division Welter, what it is what he will do in his first match with 170 pounds against Rafael dos Anjos on May 18 in the main event of UFC Rochester.
"A lot of [the lightweight division] a little stagnant, which is a real shame, "Lee said Monday MMA time. "I mean, this has always been one of the best divisions in the UFC. There are so many ups and downs. And that was a part of me, that's where I said I wanted to be and that's where I started and that I will have to finish, especially fighting Khabib. But when I looked at it, like, okay, I'm not going to sit and wait.
"It's too much politics going on. As you said, Max is now fighting with Dustin, Tony is sitting – which makes me sad about this whole situation – and all these other things, and no one wants to fight, and guys do not want that these some fights just to push them up, and Conor is a little on hold. And I'm like, you know what, f * ck all that. Anyway, I am especially worried for myself. For me, I am the best dog. So that's the best fit for my career and my future.
"These fights will always be there," continued Lee. "I'm still 100% confident of winning 155 points, but we'll see afterwards. I prefer this fight to 170; 155, they need to pull themselves together. That's all. I think everything will be done towards the end of the year, but I was not about to wait for them. "
The switch to welterweight makes sense for Lee. As he gets older, the 26-year-old Michigan native is finding it increasingly difficult to reach the 155-pound mark. He was downright weightless last year for his victory over Edson Barboza and has been campaigning for a long time for the creation of a 165-pound division.
But timing also makes sense. What about Robert Whittaker become champion of the UFC at 185 pounds, or former middleweight Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith who win the title at 205 pounds, the trend of fighters to win the success in growing a division and getting closer to their natural weight has never been so great. . For more understandable examples, Lee does not need to go further than Anthony Pettis and Jorge Masvidal, two long-time lightweights who suddenly find themselves in the thick of the subject at around thirty pounds after having recently eliminated the former welterweight contenders.
"I'm about 181 pounds. I'd usually be a lot heavier, but I've been around 180, 181 for really a year or a year and a half, "Lee said.
"When I look at other guys, maybe [I’ll be on the smaller end of welterweight], but Pettis just showed, last Saturday, that sometimes this size really does not matter, especially when it comes to speed and durability. … I feel that I can get a lot of technique out of these guys. When I even see a lot of their struggle at 170, it's largely very basic. So I think that technique, speed and durability will be more durable than their strength. I will let you know after May 18th how this is going. I'm a little bit thinking that I'll be with you.
Lee said his move to 170 pounds was not permanent. He still holds the door open for a potential return to the lightweight division once the title image is revealed, but he will not rule out a race to the UFC welterweight championship either. if things go well against Anjos dos. For the moment, all the options are at stake, which is an exciting opportunity for Lee and which, according to him, has given new life to UFC Rochester.
"We will have to see how that will move," Lee said. "As you said, Pettis was superb, Masvidal was superb, you still have (Ben) Askren out, you have (Santiago) Ponzinibbio, you have Leon Edwards, and as I said, (Kamaru) Usman is now the champion, so Mama Woodley warned him, I'm here, I'm coming for him, so I do not know, we'll see, it's nothing but respect between me and Usman, and I have a I do not want to honor him, but as a competitor I will probably be on his heels, we'll see, we'll see after the fight. "