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Kevin Lee: UFC 216 weight cut ‘damn near killed me,’ it’s about time to move up

Kevin Lee says he’s too big for lightweight and is looking to move up a division.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Chiesa vs Lee Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Lee was winning the earlier portions of his UFC 216 interim title bout against Tony Ferguson. He likely was up on the scorecards in the opening rounds, but he slowed down and eventually got submitted by the patient and more experienced opponent.

According to Lee, the weight cut was disastrous, and battling a staph infection only made things worse.

“I feel like the (struggle to make weight) was a huge factor,” Lee said in the post-fight press conference. “The staph infection really didn’t help. I’ve been fighting it for over a week now, and it didn’t make the weight cut easier.”

Lee, who had to try twice to make the 155 lb limit, says the cut nearly “killed” him, and that it probably best that he moves up a division next.

“I’m sitting around here about 185 lbs, a little too big for the weight class now. I’ve been fighting at this weight class since I started MMA at 17, so it’s about time for me to go up, get stronger and bigger.

“The weight cut, was what it was. I wasn’t going to let down the whole show, let down everybody. I was going to make weight, even if I had to cut my foot off or something,” he said. “It damn near killed me, but I had to do what I had to do. I got job to do. I’m a professional. I would come out here no matter how bad it hurts. I felt like I put my best performance on tonight, but by the third round it was just too much for me.”

While Lee spoke about the weight cut playing a factor, he did make sure to give Ferguson some praise, and to say that there aren’t any excuses for his loss.

“I don’t know, but regardless, Tony Ferguson was the better fighter tonight. I said it before, I thought he was the toughest fight in this division,” he said. “I kinda estimated his work from the bottom. It was the elbows. He did a great job.”

With the cases of extreme weight cutting, along with the depth at both lightweight and welterweight, this also brings up the topic of possibly adding a division in the UFC. Having divisions at 155, 165, 175, and 185 lbs doesn’t dilute the talent pool as much as adding divisions higher than middleweight, and it possibly adds one more promotable champion and star contenders too. Maybe these smaller divisional gaps of 10 lbs curbs the number of extreme cuts, or maybe it doesn’t, but I believe it’s a topic worth discussing moving forward.

In the mean time, moving up right now means Lee will have to compete 15 lbs higher. It’s a pretty big jump, but other lightweights have found some success at 170 recently. With Rafael dos Anjos, Jorge Masvidal and Donald Cerrone all taking big wins there this past year, it doesn’t seem that farfetched to see the much younger fighter in Lee to grow into his frame and possibly flourish there as well.