Las Vegas’s Kevin Lee looks to bounce back at UFC Fight Night

Las Vegan Kevin Lee is anxious to put the memory of falling short in a UFC interim lightweight title bout in the past.

He’s not looking to do it against a pushover.

Lee agreed to face Edson Barboza in the main event of UFC Fight Night 128 on April 21 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The folks know I love a challenge more than anything,” he said Saturday backstage during UFC 222 at T-Mobile Arena. “I’m not one to look for easy fights or money fights. Barboza to me is hands down the best striker in lightweight history so when I go and take him out, I’ll have that title.”

Lee, 25, had been linked to a potential fight with Nate Diaz, but Lee got tired of waiting for Diaz to make a decision.

“I’m ready to get it in,” he said. “I’ve got that itch. I’m ready to go.”

In fact, Lee isn’t certain Diaz wants to get back in the cage at all.

“I don’t want to fight anybody that doesn’t want to fight,” Lee said. “The Nate Diaz fight was there. I thought that would have been a good fight. He’s a good fighter and I thought the people wanted to see it, but the man doesn’t want to fight. I’m not a bully. I’m not going to bother you too much if you don’t want to fight.”

Lee insists the October loss to Tony Ferguson, which snapped a five-fight winning streak and denied him his first UFC belt, did nothing to impact his confidence. He still believes he will be champion and is excited to prove himself once again when he steps back in the cage.

Lee’s camp will look a bit different, however. His head coach Robert Follis committed suicide in December and has left a void in Lee’s corner.

He says he will work with the rest of the coaching staff he has in the past between Xtreme Couture and One Kick Nick’s gym in Las Vegas, as well as spending time at the UFC Performance Institute.

Lee may settle on a new head coach after this fight, but he believes the plan is in place to get through the next seven weeks without formalizing such a decision.

His plan for the year is a bit more settled.

Lee envisions beating Barboza and earning his way back up near the top of the rankings in the lightweight division. Then, he hopes to again fight for the belt by the end of 2018.

He believes Ferguson will beat Khabib Nurmagomedov to claim the belt the UFC intends to strip from Conor McGregor when they fight next month. Lee knows how good Ferguson is from their fight in October and he just hasn’t been impressed with Nurmagomedov’s recent performances.

“The man looked the same as he has for years,” Lee said. “I give praise when guys are out there and constantly putting the work in and improving. To me, Khabib looked just like he did against Rafael dos Anjos like six years ago. I’m just not seeing the evolution in his game.

“With me, you’ll see something new every time I go out there.”

Lee plans to show that against Barboza next month.

Edgar issues statement after KO loss

Former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has suffered defeat in the cage before, but never like he did on Saturday night.

All five of his previous losses had come by decision before Edgar was knocked out by Brian Ortega in the first round of a featherweight contender bout on the UFC 222 card at T-Mobile Arena.

It was a devastating loss for Edgar, who was supposed to fight Max Holloway for the featherweight title on Saturday. He risked his spot in the division by accepting Ortega as a replacement opponent and now must work his way back up to that spot and watch as Ortega likely challenges Holloway for the belt this summer.

“Saturday did not go as planned,” Edgar posted on social media. “Congrats to Ortega. He definitely got me with some good ones. Thanks to all my peers, my team, my friends, and my fans for their nice words. They don’t go unnoticed. All I can do now is dust myself off and get ready to put it all on the line again.”

Saturday marked Edgar’s first loss in a nontitle bout since 2008.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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