After a rough couple of years under the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) banner that saw him go 1-4 since 2018, Kevin Lee parted ways with the Endeavor-owned mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion and eventually landed a spot in Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC promotion.
But, there was a time when “Motown Phenom” was a legit threat to the UFC Lightweight title, starting his career inside the Octagon with a 10-3 record before going on his skid. During his tenure with UFC, Lee picked up huge wins over the likes of Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa and Gregor Gillespie, among others.
His losses, however, were a bit more high-profile. Lee suffered defeats at the hands of current 155-pound champion, Charles Oliveira, Rafael dos Santos, Tony Ferguson and Al Iaquinta (twice). His level of competition is a testament to the type of competitor Lee is; however, if he had to do it over again he would take a different path.
During a recent interview with The Schmo, Lee says looking back he’d copy Sean O’Malley’s blueprint by picking and choosing his fights.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to Sean O’Malley,” Lee said via MMA Junkie. “He knows how to come up. He did it the right way. Honestly, I wish I would have took a couple of pages or two out of his book and had that ability to kind of pick and choose my fights and put on great performances like that. He’s doing it the right way.”
Lee doesn’t mean it in a disrespectful way. If anything, he’s a bit jealous he didn’t do it first.
“I’m not mad at him for it. I’m a little jealous — I ain’t going to lie,” Lee said. “He doesn’t have to fight jiu-jitsu black belts and then in the next fight, fight a world-class striker and then fight a world-champion kickboxer and then fight a wrestler. He doesn’t have to do that. I’m a little jealous. But, I tip my hat to him for doing that, though.”
O’Malley’s level of competition has come under fire throughout his career. In his first eight fights inside the Octagon, “Suga” has yet to face a Top 10-ranked fighter, which many credit to him amassing an 8-1 record. His lone loss during that time came against Marlon Vera, who is currently ranked No. 8 in the 135-pound division, but was not ranked during his fight against “Suga.”
In fact, even UFC president Dana White admitted that he was bringing O’Malley along slowly (unlike Khamzat Chimaev) because after four years with the promotion he’s still “not ready” to face high-ranked opponents. Perhaps now that O’Malley is back in the Top 15 for the first time in a while, it now seems inevitable.