Rising UFC lightweight Kevin Lee speaks his mind. The Detroit fighter got on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour and criticized the host for not having him on earlier, noting he had been asking for years and was ignored, while the sport was fawning over fights like Mickey Gall vs. Sage Northcutt.
Now Lee fights Michael Chiesa in the main event of UFC Fight Night 112 on June 25, 2017, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And he has a larger platform to speak frankly. In addition to the MMA media as embodied by Helwani, Lee also criticized the UFC’s efforts in promoting black fighters, something he attributed not to racism, but to fan demographics and business.
“Look, I had these same conversations with UFC, and I’m just letting you know because I’m talking to you right now,” said Lee, as transcribed by Adam Guillen Jr. for MMA Mania. “But I’ve let them know how I feel, that’s just how I am. I’m not one of these fighters that is going to pussy-foot around.
“Me and Joe [Silva, former UFC matchmaker] have had arguments, he’s called me a whole bunch of names, and I called him a whole bunch of names. But, I understand, the same reason you do it, is the same reason UFC does it, it’s hard to promote a black fighter. They haven’t broken into the African-American market. So, they don’t want to go all in on it because they don’t know if they are going to get their return. It’s a business just like any other.
“They are not racist, they are not this other s***, they are just about the money. Detroit, Philly, Chicago, St. Louis, they just don’t bring the money in for the UFC to go all in on it, which I understand and is fully respectable. So that could be part of it. And like I said, I will get into a few arguments. It’s probably a mix of everything, you know.”
Lee’s comments on race may receive some pushback, but his wider criticism is even harder still to refute. Helwani refers to it as fighters getting fans “emotionally invested.” Lee refers to it as the media focusing on fighters who say “dumb s***.”
Lee is right.
If you want to add over one hundred thousand pay per view buys, then shove each other and tumble off the stage, or throw half empty water bottles at each other. Those kind of pre-school antics and their verbal equivalents are the stuff that catches fan attention in this sport.