Kevin Lee gave Rafael dos Anjos 'undivided attention' without weight cut, enticed by 170 options
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Kevin Lee makes it sound more and more like welterweight could be a permanent home as his divisional debut draws closer on Saturday at UFC on ESPN+ 10.
Lee (17-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) has spent his UFC career at lightweight, but this weekend he moves up to face Rafael dos Anjos (28-11 MMA, 17-9 UFC) in a headlining bout at 170 pounds. “The Motown Phenom” has long talked about being uncomfortable at 155 pounds and was hoping the promotion eventually would open a much-discussed 165-pound weight class.
It hasn’t happened, so Lee is making the jump to welterweight. And after going through a training camp and getting his first feel of fight week, he seems to be in a positive space.
“I’m in a little bit better mood, you can probably tell right out the gate. You look back at the old (interviews), I’m about the same weight, but I know I got that big cut ahead of me, which is really unnecessary,” Lee told reporters, including MMA Junkie, on Wednesday at UFC on ESPN+ 10 open workouts. “I feel like the UFC is slowly taking steps in the right direction on getting rid of this weight cutting. This sport is dangerous enough as it is. It doesn’t make any sense that we’ve got to dehydrate ourselves and put our health at risk and not give the fans and the folks the fight that they should get.
“I feel like that’s what I’m going to give them this week with not having to fight the scale before getting in there and having to fight somebody like dos Anjos, and it’s only going to be a benefit.”
UFC on ESPN+ 10 takes place at Blue Cross Arena. The entire card streams on ESPN+.
Lee, 26, said he felt free of a mental toll of sorts throughout training camp. He was largely successful before but would always go through preparation knowing that a daunting weight cut stood between training camp and getting in the octagon. That no longer exists, and he said he feels the results.
“I was mostly happy that I get to focus 100 percent on dos Anjos,” Lee said. “He’s the first former world champion that I’m going up against. So he got my full, undivided attention, and I gave him that respect, too. Going against somebody like him you’ve got to be dialed in at all times. It did help not having to think about, ‘Oh, am I going to make it?’ or, ‘Oh, I have to take these extra steps in order to kill myself to make it.’ That definitely helped, and I think it’s going to shine through.”
Dos Anjos is a former longtime lightweight himself. In fact, that’s where he held UFC gold over multiple fights. He eventually moved up to welterweight and found himself on the cusp of a title shot before a pair of losses to top contenders moved him out of the conversation.
The Brazilian never has suffered three consecutive defeats, and Lee said he’s expecting dos Anjos to come out better than ever. He does not anticipate an easy night’s work.
“He’s a former world champion, and you really can’t take that away from him,” Lee said. “He’s going to be that until the day he dies and just to have that accolade next to him, it just shows what kind of heart he got just to get to the top. I know, even though he might have slipped up in his last couple fights, a guy like that is just going to go out there and use that experience to get better. He’s like a caged animal.
“When you got the lion backed up, he’s more dangerous. So I’m expecting a very, very dangerous dos Anjos. He’s very, very aggressive. He’s going to come forward, he’s going to get in my face, but that’s the type of fight that I want. I haven’t gave the UFC and the people that grew up in this sport that real barnburner of a fight where I’m bloody, and the guy is bloody, and it’s just a real drag-em-out fight. I think dos Anjos might give it to me. So every day I get a little more excited about that.”
Lee knows the significance of what beating dos Anjos could do for his career. The lack of weight cut has Lee in good spirits ahead of fight night, and if he can pair that with a strong performance, he’ll likely have a ranking next to his name next week. At that point, he said it would be hard to look back at lightweight.
“There’s a lot of good options at 170,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of good fights to be had after this one. You’ve got (Ben) Askren, you’ve got Colby (Covington), you’ve got Kamaru Usman who I’m really chasing for. All them right there. Then when you add in guys like (Anthony) Pettis, Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal – it’s a lot of talent up here, and it’s a lot to entice me to get to stay. Especially with the way things have been going this week, I’m kinda liking it.”
To watch Lee’s full media scrum, check out the video above.