When Kevin Lee lost a main event rematch to Al Iaquinta this past December he thought he’d rebound in 2019 and fight his way back into contention at 155 pounds.
Instead, UFC had different plans for “Motown Phenom.” After his loss to Iaquinta, which closed out UFC’s broadcast partnership with FOX, the promotion tried to schedule Lee in a welterweight bout with former title challenger Darren Till at UFC London this March.
While Till would have been a huge name to add to his resume, Lee didn’t feel like it was the right time to make a move to 170 pounds.
“They offered me Darren Till for that main event spot in London and I think they trying to push me out the division,” Lee recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “They pretty much approached me right after the fight and they asked me would I go 170. I’m like, ‘Not really (interested). This is where I started, this is where I’m going to get that belt first and just keep moving on. I just wasn’t interested. I’m going to stay at 155 and someone is going to get hurt.”
Lee, who has racked off an impressive 10-4 record in the UFC’s jam-packed lightweight division since his debut in 2014, took a night to think it over. Ultimately, he decided that there’s too much unfinished business at 155 pounds to jump ship right now.
“I slept on it for the night then I woke up in the morning and it was the same thing,” Lee said. “I try not to make decisions on the fly like that. It just still wasn’t too interesting. There’s still so much work for me to be done at 155.”
With Lee declining to fight Till this March, the English welterweight will now face off against veteran Jorge Masvidal in the main event.
As for “Motown Phenom,” he’s already setting his sights on his next potential opponent at the lightweight level.
“There’s the Gregor Gillespie kid who looked real good,” Lee said. “He ain’t going to spend no time calling nobody out. I’m trying to get in touch with his people while he out in the woods. I was impressed with that last fight and that’s definitely a fight I’m looking at now. I would be giving him a shot and coming up. I’ve already put my offer out there I’m just waiting to hear back. The kid can fight. He’s undefeated. I really wasn’t too impressed with him, but that last fight versus Yancy, he did all right. I think I might go ahead and get that done, it’s just on him whether he want to have it or not.”
Gillespie, 31, is one of the best kept secrets at 155 pounds. The rising lightweight contender has won his first six Octagon appearances en route to pushing his undefeated MMA record to 13-0. Gillespie has also added five-straight finishes, including a recent TKO victory over tough Hawaiian veteran Yancy Medeiros earlier this month at UFC on ESPN+ 1 in Brooklyn, New York.
With a logjam of sorts atop the UFC’s lightweight division, it makes sense for the promotion to book a fight between Lee and “The Gift.” Gillespie is never one to call out potential opponents so “Motown Phenom” will likely have to continue lobbying for the matchup.