Exclusive – Kevin Lee Dissects the Drama Surrounding Ian Garry and the Success of Francis Ngannou

Lee shared his take on MMA's biggest stories of 2023 while discussing his recently-announced return to fighting

Kevin Lee
Courtesy of @UFCNews on X

Kevin Lee credits his newfound faith for his decision to return to mixed martial arts. 

Six months after hanging up his gloves following a disappointing 55-second submission loss to Rinat Fakhretdinov inside the Octagon, the ‘Motown Phenom’ revealed that he is preparing to compete once again. Speaking with James Lynch in a MiddleEasy exclusive interview, Lee believes that his latest comeback and new outlook on life can be attributed to his 2021 conversion to Islam. 

“I’m gonna credit my newfound faith with the comeback and me being able to come back and come back healthy,” Lee said. “I think I let a lot of things cloud my judgment. I let drinking cloud my judgment. I let weed cloud my judgment. For a lot of my career, I smoked a lot of weed and it was when I started to slow down and my body started to slow down too and I think that’s something that more people need to speak up about. 

“I think you hear enough about how weed doesn’t kill anybody. I think it does a lot more damage than what we put on. Especially when you got the money behind it and you’re smoking all day, every day. Now that I’ve been cleansed of that for almost two years, I’m just getting more and more clarity every day. I feel better, I look better.”

In 2022, Kevin Lee switched gyms, moving from Xtreme Couture to Kill Cliff FC to train alongside some of MMA’s best including Impa Kasanganay, Gerald Meerschaert, Gilbert Burns, Michael Chandler, and Vicente Luque.

Recently, the gym has seen some turmoil within, much of it involving UFC welterweight standout Ian Garry who has established himself as a bit of a “nomad” in multiple gyms around the globe. Garry and Luque — who regularly trained together at Kill Cliff — have taken some jabs at one another on social media since the former’s exile from the gym. They were even scheduled to fight at UFC 296 in December before ‘The Future’ was forced to withdraw due to a bad bout of pneumonia. 

Asked for his take on the situation between Garry and Luque, Lee tends to avoid all the gym drama but has no hesitations about vouching for Luque as a stand-up guy. 

“I don’t really get too much into the gym drama and all that,” Lee said. “That’s always there, but Luque is a really solid dude. One of the solidest dudes that I’ve ever met. So if anybody has anything bad to say about him, then they got something bad to say about me. The Ian situation, I don’t know. It seems like he’s a young man who’s trying to find [himself] and I don’t fault him for that. I’ve been in those same shoes. I might have said some things. We’re in the toe-stepping business so if he stepped on some toes along the way…”

Kevin Lee is Thrilled to See His Friend, Francis Ngannou, Succeed in Combat Sports

Another good friend that Kevin Lee was thrilled to see succeed is PFL fighter and No. 10 ranked WBC heavyweight Francis Ngannou. 2023 was an up-and-down year for the Cameroonian. After walking away from a UFC contract that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight in promotional history, Ngannou was inundated with comments from fighters and fans claiming he had “fumbled the bag.” 

However, Ngannou would have the last laugh, signing a ground-breaking deal with the Professional Fighters League that would allow him the freedom to pursue a pro boxing career. He did exactly that, going toe-to-toe with Tyson Fury in October.

In March, Ngannou will return to the squared circle for a clash with No. 1 ranked contender Anthony Joshua

“That’s one of the guys that really gives you motivation,” Lee said when asked about Ngannou’s success over the last year. “It was such a… Just to see him go up against the world. And I’ve seen him do it multiple times. For him to reach this peak, it’s incredible. He’s gonna be one of those major stories to come out of combat sports in the next 100 to 200 years.

“To see somebody and to be close with them and see them make history right in front of your eyes is very inspiring and it’s a huge motivating factor in my career.”

Kevin Lee also shared an update on his younger brother and fellow MMA fighter ‘Killa’ Keith Lee. Previously competing under the Bellator MMA banner, Keith Lee made his last appearance at Urijah Faber’s A1 Combat 5 in September, earning a split decision over Jeremiah Labiano. Since then, the younger Lee has established himself online as an incredibly successful food critic. 

“At the end of the day, you can make a lot of money fighting so there’s potential, but right now he’s enjoying himself,” Lee replied when asked if we’ll see his brother back inside the cage someday. “He’s doing his thing. He makes me prouder and prouder every day. Not just because of the accolades. Not just because of the money, but who he has grown into as a person and as a man.”

Speaking of family, Lee shared some insight into what it’s like to become a first-time father and how the experience has changed his perspective on life, love, and happiness. 

“It’s incredible,” Lee said with a smile. “It’s the best thing in the world. It’s one of those things where the deeper that you get into it, the better it gets. People can tell you over and over, ‘Wait till you have kids’ and it’s so true. There’s so many things that you can’t put into words. I don’t think I really knew what happiness or love was before I had a kid and that’s just because I got something better to compare it to. 

“When I was alone, I never had this amount of happiness and love. It’s incredible. It’s the best thing ever.”

Watch the full exclusive interview below:

Published on February 6, 2024 at 4:49 pm
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