Kevin Lee is coming home.
The news broke earlier this week (Mon., Feb. 6, 2023) that “The Mo-Town Phenom” was returning to the Octagon after one year and some change away from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). All signs pointed toward Lee joining Professional Fighters League (PFL) after a cup of coffee in Eagle Fighting Championship, defeating Diego Sanchez via a unanimous decision in March 2022 (watch highlights).
According to Lee, he was incredibly close to signing with the season-based promotion. Ultimately, he sought more of a challenge than what he felt PFL had to offer.
“I was probably like two or three days away from when they made that call,” Lee told ESPN of his PFL offer. “Two days later and I would have signed it and we would be talking about having some kind of no-name type of fight and then working my way toward a Jake Paul [fight]. If that was the route I wanted to go down, I could have done it. Jake Paul’s a much easier fight than having to fight — I mean, you’re talking about Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, and [Jorge] Masvidal. The list can just keep going with tough fights. You’ve got Khamzat [Chimaev] out there somewhere. There’s a lot of tougher fights.
“At the end of the day, I had to search and see what I really wanted to do, and it’s try to create a long-lasting legacy that my son can look up to,” he concluded.
Before signing with UFC for his second stint, Lee, 30, expressed interest in welcoming the aforementioned boxer, Paul, to mixed martial arts (MMA). Paul signed with the promotion early last month (Jan. 2023) and will eventually make his debut in MMA under PFL’s banner.
Lee heads back to UFC looking to tighten up his final stretch, which saw him go 2-5 in his final seven bouts, dating back to his interim Lightweight title scrap against Tony Ferguson in Oct. 2017.
“It’s not something I was really interested in doing,” Lee said of joining PFL. “I feel like even if I would have won a PFL championship, in the back of my mind I’d still be thinking, ‘Man, I didn’t get the UFC championship. I didn’t go out on my own terms in the UFC.’ That was something that appealed to me a little bit more.
“Dana White’s son can be my fan, but I want my son to be my biggest fan,” he continued. “I think he can look up to, ‘Okay, you actually went out there and you did it. You actually competed and you actually put your balls on the line instead of taking the easy route out.’ Jake Paul would have been the easy route, for sure.”
Lee has yet to have a return bout booked, but will compete at Welterweight.