When Kevin Lee made his way to the octagon for his interim lightweight title match against Tony Ferguson at UFC 216, fight fans were on edge for the much-anticipated clash.
While all eyes were on the competitors, it wasn’t just their fight skills that drew interest. When Lee emerged from the back, UFC commentators noted what seemed to be a staph infection on the fighter’s chest.
Joe Rogan, Jon Anik, and UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier all brought attention to the large red bump. However, Cormier noted that he received directions not to bring it up.
“So we’re on air, right, and Rogan goes ‘is that staph?’ And somebody in my ear, I don’t know who, goes ‘don’t say nothing.’”
Staph is a condition that is somewhat common in combat sports. Given that the athletes are constantly making skin-to-skin contact and coming in contact with mats coated in sweat and bacteria, their chances of getting a staph infection are higher than that of athletes in many other sports.
Staph infections are known to drain the sufferers of their energy, causing them to feel fatigued and lethargic. It is worth noting that Lee originally missed weight for the title fight, coming in at 156 pounds. He was deemed fit to reattempt the weight cut by doctors, and lost an additional 1.5 pounds in the allotted hour timeframe.
There’s no guarantee that Lee’s tough weight cut had to do with staph. There did not seem to be any indication of an infection during the weigh-ins, but that doesn’t mean the condition wasn’t present at the time.
Lee did appear to slow through the course of his title fight. After turning in a strong performance early on, he faded by the third round. Lee ultimately lost the bout, submitting to a triangle choke.
Antibiotics are traditionally used to treat staph, but this can result in negative side effects as well. They’re known to cause cardio problems, much in the same way of the infection itself.
Cormier spoke about how his training partner, UFC middleweight Luke Rockhold, had been on antibiotics prior to his title fight with Chris Weidman. He noted that Rockhold was becoming more fatigued than usual as the fight went on, further showing how the medication can affect an athlete’s performance.
Cormier has also spoken about Lee’s decision to hide the issue and continue with the fight, noting title opportunities don’t come around very often. “For Kevin Lee, he had no option because he couldn’t not fight.”
For Lee, he may have an advantage in this situation. Given that he is only 25 and has already worked to become a more well-known name in the sport, it is likely that he will achieve more title opportunities in the future.
The history of staph infections among MMA fighters has led to some severe cases. Former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman was hospitalized for a serious staph infection that left a deep indentation in his skin.
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