Kevin Lee's head coach prefers he stay at lightweight, not move up

Kevin Lee said he had to drop 19 pounds in the 24 hours leading up to this UFC 216 weigh-in last week. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- It is not yet clear whether UFC lightweight Kevin Lee will move up to welterweight following a difficult cut ahead of last weekend's interim title fight against Tony Ferguson.

Lee (16-3) lost the fight via submission. He mentioned a potential move to 170 pounds, but his head coach, Robert Follis, told ESPN a final decision hasn't been made.

"I know Kevin talked about it right after the fight, but we haven't discussed it as a camp yet," Follis said. "Obviously, it's a possibility -- but I'm not sold that's happening yet.

"I like him at 155 pounds. We've got to do something to make that cut a little easier, but he's worked his way to the top there. Right now, I think 155 is good, but 170 is not out of reach. He's capable of putting on size."

For the record, Follis would prefer Lee (along with every other mixed martial artist) not cut weight at all. The longtime coach believes it's an outdated practice that doesn't even achieve what it was originally created for.

But until athletic commissions and promoters get a proper handle on it, Follis says, it has an unavoidable effect on Lee -- who is caught between the two divisions.

"There are some huge jumps between weight classes and people are trying to morph their bodies to fit a weight that isn't natural," Follis said. "Long term, it would be best to see weight cuts cleaned out. I'd love to see commissions come together and remove them from the equation. How much someone can sweat shouldn't be a factor in who wins a fight.

"Kevin and Tony are similar in size, but they've got to torture themselves to get to a weight class. They can't just make a gentleman's agreement and fight at 170, because then they can't win a belt at 155. The whole weight class would have to agree to it. This really comes down to commissions making a change for fighter safety and health. It's frustrating that it doesn't get addressed more."

Lee initially missed weight for the 155-pound title bout but hit it on a second attempt. He told reporters the day prior he needed to lose 19 pounds in 24 hours and barely made it. Not surprisingly, some fans accused him of being "unprofessional" and questioned why he doesn't just move up in weight.

Follis referred to those criticisms as "uneducated." Obviously, Lee's greatest opportunity to make money is to be a champion. And at the top of each division, Follis says, competition is fierce -- and giving up size is a real disadvantage.

"This is a guy who is on a diet 365 days a year," Follis said. "I work with a lot of fighters who have tough weight cuts. What Kevin faces isn't rare. It's hard to be small in a weight class and be world class. It's an exception to the rule, not the norm.

"If you want to remain competitive, you can't just say, 'OK, I'll fight up and give away 15 pounds to a guy who is equally tough and skilled as me.' If one of these contenders move up and the rest don't, well that one is at a huge disadvantage.

"The weight cut, I'm sure it started off with someone doing it for an advantage, but now everybody is doing it. The fact these commissions aren't addressing it is really them dropping the ball."

Immediately after the UFC 216 main event, Lee admitted to UFC commentator Joe Rogan he was battling a staph infection on his chest.

Follis downplayed the infection, saying it appeared days before the fight and was manageable until it flared up during the weight cut. He said it might have affected Lee's ability to sweat and lose weight, but wouldn't speculate on what impact it had in the fight.

"It's hard to say how much it affected him. It would just be guess work," Follis said. "We went in and fought and got beat. It's hard to go into any fight completely healthy."

Lee trains out of Las Vegas but is originally from Detroit. The UFC has a pay-per-view event scheduled in Detroit on Dec. 2, but Follis admitted it's highly unlikely Lee would attempt that turnaround.

"I wouldn't imagine that's something we want right now," Follis said. "He wants to fight in Detroit, and that was our plan before this opportunity came up, but I think right now we get him healthy. He fought four times in the last year. I think he's due a break."