Kevin Lee left no doubt how he felt after giving everything he had and coming up short in his main-event fight with Tony Ferguson on Saturday night at UFC 216.
“I’m devastated,” the fighter known as “The Motown Phenom” said at the post-fight press conference in Las Vegas. “I mean, you know, I feel like I worked my ass off for this fight. I stepped up when no one else would, I took a big risk tonight, but I’m going to come back and I’m going to come back stronger.”
It was a roller-coaster week for Lee, who came off bombastic and confident during his media appearances, but needed an extra hour to make weight for his UFC interim lightweight title fight with Ferguson, who submitted him via triangle choke in the third round at T-Mobile Arena.
Adding to the weight-cut woes was a staph infection, which he apparently managed to slip past Nevada Athletic Commission doctors.
“I tried my best to hide it,” Lee said. “You know, it’s a big event, a lot has been happening with the UFC, these last couple events and I wasn’t going to let nobody down. I worked my whole life for this, it was like a culmination of things. But I’m not going to let this stop me.”
Lee doesn’t want to make excuses for the loss, as he gave Ferguson, a fellow former Grand Valley State wrestling competitor, his props for the victory. But he can’t pretend his weakened state wasn’t a factor in the loss.
“I feel like that was a huge factor,” he said. “The staff infection didn’t really help. I’ve been fighting it for about a week now and it didn’t make the weight cut no easier so like I said I’m sitting here now about 185 pounds. I’m a little too big for the weight class now I’ve been fighting in the weight class since I started MMA at 17 so its about time for me to go up. I’m getting stronger and bigger.”
Lee, who has advocated for the UFC to adopt the new 155/165/175 weight classes recently adopted by the Association of Boxing Commissions, didn’t want to detail what went down in the hour between his first weigh-in, when he checked in at 156, and the second one, at 154.5.
“It was what it was,” Lee said. “I was going to make the weight, even if I had to cut my foot off or something. I said it before, it damn near killed me and I had to do what I had to do. I had a job to do, I’m a professional and I’m going to come out here no matter how bad it hurts. I’m going to come out here and I feel like I put my best performance on tonight, but by the third round it was too much for me.”
In the end, though, Lee says the night was about the victor.
“Tony Ferguson was the better fighter tonight,” Lee said. “I said it before, it’s the toughest fight in this division. I tried to step up and you know what can I do?”