Kevin Lee used to talk about wanting to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. Now he’s working for him.

Just one month after getting released by the UFC, Lee (18-7 MMA, 11-7 UFC) has signed a multi-fight deal with Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to MMA Junkie. Ariel Helwani was first to report the news.

Promotion officials announced the signing Wednesday at a news conference in Miami with Lee in attendance. Lee’s debut is set for March 11 against an opponent to be determined, and it will take place at 165 pounds.

“It’s amazing. Walking into this building feels like a fresh start,” Lee said. “I could feel like a new energy. And to be around a great champion and great champions in the past and try to follow in their footsteps, I feel like it’s big shoes to fill, and I’m here to do that.”

Lee said a “big part” of his decision to sign with Eagle FC is the promotion’s commitment to a 165-pound division, which he long has called for.

“I’ll be the first 165-pound world champion,” Lee said. “… It’ll feel nice to make a little piece of history for mixed martial arts.”

Kevin Lee says ‘lack of respect’ from UFC upsets him most about release, excited for big paydays

Lee also expressed how he feels about Nurmagomedov now compared to the past and how that factored into signing with his promotion.

“I’ve seen his rise through the UFC. I know how hard it is to be a champion, and I know how hard it is to stay a champion,” Lee said. “That’s one thing, but then I start seeing what he’s able to do outside of the cage and supporting his teammates and training other people, and now he’s getting into promoting. I give him credit for that. I’ve said a lot about the man in the past, and I wanted to fight him, and I wanted to test myself against him. I only want to do that with people I respect. Since his retirement, my respect has grown. I’m happy to go in there and shed some blood.

Lee, 29, was let go by the UFC after losing four of his past five fights. His lone win in that stretch was a highlight-reel knockout of formerly unbeaten Gregor Gillespie in November 2019.

Lee, a former UFC interim lightweight title challenger, holds notable wins over Gillespie, Michael Chiesa and Edson Barboza, but he struggled in the octagon after losing to Tony Ferguson for the interim belt in October 2017. Lee’s final two UFC setbacks came to current UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and most recently rising contender Daniel Rodriguez in August.

Miami will play host to Eagle FC 44 on Jan. 28, which is headlined by a heavyweight bout between Tyrone Spong and Sergei Kharitonov. UFC Hall of Famer Rashad Evans will come out of retirement to return to fighting. Former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao also will make his return on that card when he takes on fellow UFC alum Horacio Gutierrez.

Eagle FC plans on holding as many as 10 events in the U.S. in 2022.

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