Kevin Lee has re-signed with the UFC for an exclusive deal following his departure from the promotion in late 2021, per Brett Okamoto via ESPN. Let's review the circumstances surrounding Lee's career and why he's returning.
Lee joined the UFC in 2014 with a 7-0 record as a talented prospect but would lose his debut to Al Iaquinta via second-round submission. He would then go 4-1 in his next five fights following the defeat. With a good start in the UFC, Lee would realize his potential by putting on a five-fight win streak across two years. In his first fight, he defeated Efrain Escudero via unanimous decision. He would finish his next four fights, TKOing Jake Matthews and submitting Magomed Mustafaev, Francisco Trinaldo, and Micheal Chiesa.
These victories would earn him the biggest fight in his career, a shot at the interim UFC Lightweight title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 216. He would find success throughout the fight but ultimately lose in the third round, with Ferguson submitting him with a triangle choke.
Following his loss to Ferguson, Lee would not be able to replicate his previous success, going 2-4 in his next six. Lee would struggle to make Lightweight throughout his career and miss weight in his next bout against Edson Barboza by a pound. He would win this fight via TKO in the fifth round, as the doctor would call off the fight due to a cut over Barboza's right eye. In his next bout, he would rematch Al Iaquinta and lose again via unanimous decision. Lee's struggle with weight would force him to take his next fight at Welterweight against Rafael Dos Anjos. He would succeed in the fight with his wrestling but would succumb to a fourth-round arm triangle submission.
Lee would remain active, returning to Lightweight to take on undefeated prospect Gregor Gillespie. Despite the betting odds being against him, entering as a +160 underdog, he would secure a sensational first-round head-kick knockout, handing Gillespie his first professional loss.
This victory would earn him a main-event fight against Charles Oliveira. Lee would miss weight, by 2.5 pounds, for the fourth time in his career entering this fight and would lose by guillotine in the third round. In his last fight in the UFC, he would be forced to take another fight at Welterweight against a much bigger Daniel Rodriguez due to the weight miss. He would lose this fight by unanimous decision, confidently outstruck by the sizeable Rodriguez.
Following his loss to Rodriguez, he would receive a six-month suspension after a positive test for amphetamine, a non-performance-enhancing drug, which Lee believed was unjustified as he was taking it for his ADHD. This would cause a disagreement with UFC President Dana White, and Lee departed UFC in 2021. After his departure, he would sign with Khabib Nurmagomedov's promotion Eagle FC in 2022. Lee would relish the opportunity to fight in Eagle FC due to its inclusion of a 165lbs (Super-Lightweight) division. In his first fight, he took on matching UFC veteran Diego Sanchez in a three-round main event. He would dominate this fight with his wrestling, earning his first win since 2019.
Following his successful debut, Kevin Lee entered a disagreement with Nurmagomedov and Eagle FC, citing a lack of competition and bad management. He also hinted towards a potential PFL deal, but this didn't come to fruition. Although initially signing a four-fight deal under Eagle FC, Lee was released in 2023. A recent post from Kevin Lee's Instagram revealed a photo of himself and Dana White, showing the two are now on better terms. A day after this post, his return to the UFC was announced.
Kevin Lee now holds a professional record of 19-7 and is only 30 despite his long and successful career. The weight class he'll be returning to has yet to be confirmed, but most people speculate it will be the stacked Lightweight division due to his struggles at Welterweight. Some opponents could include the lower-ranked top 15, like Drew Dober, Damir Ismagulov, or Renato Moicano. Fans also wish for Lee's return fight against English superstar Paddy Pimblett. A victory over Pimblett could be huge for Lee, as he could steal the hype surrounding Pimblett and skyrocket himself into a high-ranked fight.
Can Kevin Lee replicate his previous UFC success? As a member of the Verdict Community, let us know your prediction for Lee's future success in the comments below.