Lee Mein (11-17) is a man of constants. MMA Empire last caught up with the Lethbridge, Alta. fighter, promoter, coach and gym-owner in March 2021 in preparation for his first of what would end up being two fights against Brazilian prospect Caio Machado.
At this point in Mein’s story, he was less than a year removed from making mainstream media headlines for his skepticism over the merit of the province’s COVID-19 response, particularly as it targeted athletics.
“It’s been a crazy last couple years,” said Mein, who fights Matt Heim (1-10) this Saturday night in the main event of Rumble in the Cage 64, the promotion Mein owns and operates.
“I fought Machado on short notice, had a good fight, then I had a rematch with him, another short-notice because an opponent pulled out, and jumped in there, had another go at it, and got caught in an arm bar. But for me, you know, it’s fight for fun at this stage. I know what it’s like as a promoter when someone backs out of a fight and how it affects things, especially when it’s a hometown guy that’s supposed to be fighting. As a coach I know with some of my young up-and-comers are trying to get to the big shows, and if they don’t get the fight they don’t make any money and they can’t keep training. They need to be sharp so they can get the call up, so I try to accommodate that the best I can and have fun with it. I love when I’m competing against teams I know—like Chris Franco, for example. He’s an awesome guy who I’ve known for a long time now, and I just love the camaraderie.”
Those both within and without the MMA space may wonder why a man in his fifties would take such risks, fighting being a hazard to one’s health in general, let alone against much younger athletes adamant on making a win over him a career propellent.
Mein, 55, is a well known name in Canadian MMA across his many hats, and has fought live for regional promotions like BFL (Battlefield Fight League) on platforms such as UFC Fight Pass.
BFL, where Mein fought Machado in two main events, describes itself as “Canada’s premier developmental organization for the UFC,” meaning Mein has contended against some of the country’s most ascendant talent towards the world’s most elite proving ground. But Mein says for him it is the challenge itself which gives him the most reward, when the lights are finally on and he gets to answer a what-if.
“It’s the same reason why I love coaching that I love fighting. Getting to fight someone you’ve never fought before, and for a lifetime after whenever you see the guy you can share a memory of being a part of something that made people happy and got them excited,” said Mein.
“Win or lose, to me it’s always been a great experience, and I’ve built a lot of friendships over the years competing. I just really enjoy the process, and still being healthy enough to do it. I’ve had some crazy injuries these past couple years that have really hindered how much I train, but as long as I’m not getting hurt in the fights I feel I can keep going for it. I was supposed to fight Matt Heim on my last show, but it fell through, and he went and fought in Red Deer (Alberta), and now we’re scheduled for this show (on Saturday). It should be a good tilt. It’s his last fight, so we have a gentleman’s agreement that we’re going to stand and bang it out, and not go to the ground. That’s how he’s lost some of his fights, taken down and TKO’d or submitted, but I like the idea and it will be fun for the crowd. He gets the fight he wants and I get to have one more fight at home.”
With Canadian Martial Arts Centre gym operations back in full swing, Mein recounts the state of things in the early months and years of the pandemic, and the many lessons learned since.
“Yeah it’s been interesting, and frustrating. To see the reasons we were locked down—why our gyms were closed, why our promotion was closed—was mostly, as we’ve seen on the news recently, a false narrative of the government’s. I did my research and remember thinking, why are we doing all this? Is this really necessary? That’s why I’m grateful for our loyal members who kept paying us and supporting us even when we were closed, and the ones who came out to the last Rumble and raised money with us for a local charity,” he said.
“I’m grateful for myself, but frustrated for those businesses that had to shut down, and those promising young fighters who had to give up their careers.”
With a hip surgery on the immediate horizon, Mein is characteristically determined to continue fighting, if all goes well under the knife and he has a full recovery that allows proper training and preparation.
He is optimistic about that outcome, but says knowing that life is no more predictable than MMA, this weekend’s showdown opposite Heim could be his last.
“The hip is painful and limiting how much I train and what I can train. It affects my sleep. My jiu-jitsu game is greatly determined by the ability to move my hip and my legs freely. I want to compete more in jiu-jitsu, gi or no-gi, but I just can’t get enough mat time in with how things are. So yeah, this could be my last fight,” said Mein.
“I’m entering the cage this weekend the same as I have every fight. I don’t just want to show up. Whether it’s boxing or kickboxing or jiu-jitsu or MMA, I want my opponents, after we’re done, to know they were in a fight, even if they beat me. I gotta make sure I can still do that. As you get older it gets tougher in MMA and you’re fighting all these young guys, great athletes. You need to be in great shape to do that. I just want to be able to get healthy to where I can push my strength and cardio again, and just enjoy training again, and we’ll go from there. I’m just going to keep banging away until there’s nothing left.”
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