When Kevin Lee stepped inside of the Octagon at UFC 216 earlier this month the team of cageside UFC commentators, including Jon Anik, Joe Rogan, and UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, noticed that “Motown Phenom” was suffering from a nasty staph infection on his chest.
Lee’s durability against Tony Ferguson in the main event was clearly affected, forcing him to give in to “El Cucuy” via third-round submission. Not to mention the brutal weight cut Lee endured leading up to UFC 216.
While Lee’s staph infection most certainly played a role in his inability to cut weight and perform on fight night, the team of UFC commentators were told not to discuss the ailment when the fight began.
“So we’re on air, right, and Rogan goes ‘is that staph?’” Cormier said during a recent episode of the Talk & Talker podcast. “And somebody in my ear, I don’t know who it is goes ‘don’t say nothing.’ And I was like ‘What the hell? Do I address this, or do I not say anything?’”
“So I was like ‘it is.’ I couldn’t help myself, I go ‘it is staph.’ Because it’s big and red, and raised up.”
It’s strange that UFC would specifically request Anik, Rogan, and Cormier to ignore the golf ball-sized staph infection on Lee’s chest. The infection was impacting the young contender’s performance and that probably should have been relayed to the hoards of fight fans tuning in to the fight.
And if you think for one second that the staph didn’t change Lee for the worse, listen to Cormier discussing the negative effects of fighting such an infection before and during competition.
“The issue is you can take antibiotics to get better. But again, antibiotics, it’s the devil when you’re getting ready for a fight because it f*cks with your cardio,” Cormier explained. “You don’t really have much of an option in terms of feeling better when you have staph.
“In training, you go ‘oh my goodness, what is this? It might me staph.’ You stop, you get on antibiotics, and you get better. When you’re a week from the biggest fight of your career, you go ‘oh shit, this is staph, but I gotta keep training.’ You don’t have the option to just shut it down.”
Lee did everything in his power to hide the staph infection from UFC and Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) in order to keep his interim lightweight title fight with “El Cucuy.” As someone who has competed in five UFC title fights himself, Cormier understands Lee’s decision to move forward and fight with the illness.
“For Kevin Lee, he had no option because he couldn’t not fight,” Cormier said. “And you saw it, I mean between the second and third round, he told his corner, he goes ‘I’m just so tired.’”
“It’s sad because he didn’t get a fair shake, but the reality is, Tony Ferguson was on his game. And it was just getting worse because Tony was just getting better as the fight was going on.”
At just 25 years of age, “Motown Phenom” will certainly have another opportunity down the road to challenge for a UFC title. Hopefully he’s healthier the next time out.