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With UFC return looming, Kevin Lee refreshed by forced break: ‘I was just starting to hate it’

Kevin Lee didn’t expect to be sitting most of 2020 and part of 2021 on the sidelines, but he’s glad he did.

The former interim UFC lightweight title challenger is closing in on the end of his recovery from two ACL surgeries that have kept him out of MMA for close to a year. Lee (18-6 MMA, 11-6 UFC) should be fit to compete again this summer and targets a return against Tony Ferguson sometime in June or July.

The last time the 28-year-old was seen in action was in March 2020. Lee lost to top contender Charles Oliveira with a third-round submission in the headlining act of UFC Fight Night 170 in Brazil. It was a tough defeat that put a halt to Lee’s momentum after his knockout win over Gregor Gillespie a few months before.

Following the defeat, Lee expressed unhappiness with the fight game, and though he didn’t retire, he did question certain things about his fighting future. Now, almost a year later, Lee sees the pair of injuries and his road to recovery as a blessing in disguise.

“That’s one of those things – like be careful what you ask for,” Lee told MMA Junkie. “I didn’t necessarily think it would come like this. I didn’t think I would have to blow out my knees to appreciate what I did have.

“I have been fighting so much and I’m a veteran of this game now at only 28. I’ve got more fights than guys in their late 30s. So I was just going back-to-back-to-back to where it got to the point that it was just too much on my body. I was just starting to hate the process. I was starting to hate the training camps. I was starting to hate to go through all the stuff.

“That last fight in particular was the first fight with us dealing with COVID-19 and fighting in an empty arena and all these hoops and hurdles that I had to jump through, so I was just starting to hate it.

“But now that I can’t do it, I really had to sit back and fall back in love with it. I just had to sit with it and realize, ‘Man, this is what I do – this is what I love to do.’ Through this pandemic, not being able to go out or see other people or do anything else, it’s like, ‘F*ck, what else do I do? That’s right – I fight. I, like, do this sh*t, and not being able to do it makes me – absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Lee has been enjoying everything that entails being a professional fighter and is eager to make a comeback to MMA. He plans to keep training under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi at TriStar Gym in Montreal.

Lee thinks fans will see a different version of him upon his return because he’s been able to work on not just the physical aspects of the game, but more importantly his mind set.

“It’s a couple of different aspects thats are going to be good,” Lee said. “For one, I’m more conscious of the way I move and how my body is doing. As I’m hitting my peak as athlete, to be more conscious now is going to speed that process up.

“I think anybody that’s seen me fight knows that the guy across from me isn’t really the biggest challenge for me. It’s more beating myself and the mental side of it. So for me to sit back and not being able to do the physical side of the sport for over a year now, it’s really challenged that mental aspect of it. I feel like I’m starting to get a much better grip on it. By the time I do come around, there’s going to be so many positives. There’s so many guys that come off big surgeries and big time off and they come out like a new man. The list goes on and on of tons of those guys. I’m trying to be one of them.”

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