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MNMMANEWS AWARDS: Fighter of the Year Print E-mail
Written by Ben Pherson   
Monday, 16 January 2017 06:31

The first time I saw Bobby Lee was at the state wrestling tournament in 2014. I was sitting on press row, and Performance Compound owner Dave Owens sat down next to me and told me to watch this kid who was training at his gym.

Owens said the kid probably wouldn't do much at the state tournament, but he said Lee had insane potential inside the cage.

Owens was wrong about Lee's state-tournament prospects. The Becker product advanced to the state semifinals for the second consecutive season and eventually finished sixth at 170 pounds. Lee had done the same the year before, falling to future Gopher Nick Wanzek in the semifinals before finishing sixth overall at 170.

But on the second part, Owens was absolutely correct.

Lee wasted no time jumping into the cage following the completion of his high school wrestling career. He made his amateur debut in May of 2014, just two months after his

wrestling career ended. Lee quickly climbed the amateur ranks, taking out prospects like Otis Hamilton and Michael Bullen before getting a title shot in September of 2015. Lee secured that belt by beating Nico Jefferson at A-Town Throwdown VI.

 

After quick but perfect amateur career, Lee turned pro at the end of 2015 and immediately started picking off Minnesota's top prospects.

Lee started his pro career with an impressive win over the previously ranked Codie Kahler at RFA 32 in 2015.

So it was no surprise that 2016 was Lee's year. The prospect was incredible last year, going a perfect 4-0, including three wins on the big stage with RFA. For his tremendous year, Lee has been named the Minnesota MMA News Fighter of the Year.

Lee was nominated by several people in the Minnesota fight community, and he joins Tony Martin (twice) as the second fighter from the Compound ever to be the state's fighter of the year. (A complete list of past fighters of the year is at the bottom of this story.)

Lee started the year with a first-round submission win over Eric Ramm at Canterbury Park during Mecca VII. It was Lee's only fight outside the RFA cage in 2016. Ramm came in as a decorated amateur who had compiled an 8-2-1 record before turning pro. Ramm lost his pro debut to an elite fighter in RFA, and Lee handed him another loss.

Lee's final three fights of the year all were impressive victories against elite prospects, and all came under the big lights at RFA.

Lee topped fellow Minnesota prospects Alex Wiggs at RFA 36. That was one of Lee's most challenging fights, going the distance with Wiggs, who got the better of the standup battle. Lee controlled the fight on the ground, though, and Wiggs didn't have an answer for Lee's ground game. Wiggs was a perfect 3-0 at the time of the fight.

Next up was another unbeaten pro in Kyle Todd. Lee showed stunning improvement on his feet, landing several big punches and mixing in some kicks while dismantling Todd via first-round TKO. Like Wiggs, Todd was 3-0 at the time of the fight.

Finally in October, Lee took on his third consecutive unbeaten prospect in Damion Sheehan of Iowa. Once again, Lee dominated, hitting a first-round armbar to move his pro record to 5-0.

Lee's rapid ascent has been impressive, and he seems to be on a similar trajectory to his former teammate, Tony Martin, who scored a big UFC win Sunday night. Lee displays the same type of freakish athletic ability as Martin did when he was coming up.

Lee certainly is another feather in the cap of coach Brock Larson, who took Lee under his wing from Day 1. Larson has done an incredible job of motivating Lee and keeping him focused on training.

For all of these reasons, Lee is our fighter of the year.

You won't have to wait long to see Lee back in the cage, and once again he's taking on a top prospect. This time Lee faces 4-1 prospect Matt Marsh of North Dakota at the debut of Legacy Fighting Alliance in Minnesota. Lee's showdown with Marsh is part of LFA 2's main card at Mystic Lake Casino on Friday night in Prior Lake. Tickets still remain for LFA's first Minnesota showing, so fans in the Land of 10,000 Lakes can check out the fighter of the year in person Friday night!

Here is text from Lee's best Fighter of the Year nomination (from someone who wished to remain nameless):

"In 2016, Bobby Lee had a total of four professional bouts in which he went an impressive 4-0. Each bout tested his various skills and in some cases, attempted to expose his weaknesses. When he made his pro debut in late 2015 he did so on the big stage at RFA 32. Most fighters would feel overwhelmed by this, but Lee embraced the challenge and won by submission against a tough Codie Kahler. In 2016, three of Lee's four fights were for RFA. ... Lee faced two top prospects in 2016, facing first Alex Wiggs and then Kyle Todd. Lee showed great determination against Wiggs as he was knocked to the canvas a couple times. He was able to survive Wiggs' onslaught and rely on his superior wrestling skills to grind out a hard-fought majority decision. After a tough opponent like Wiggs, most would not have faulted Lee for facing an easier opponent in his next bout, but four months later he took on Todd. Lee showed off some much-improved striking and was able to finish Todd by TKO in the first round in what was a very dominant performance. With all of Lee's success, he's managed to stay grounded and continue to challenge himself. He's dedicated his life to MMA and it's paying off for him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him on an even bigger stage in the very near future."

PAST FIGHTER OF THE YEAR WINNERS

2015 — John Castaneda

2014 — Dan Kiser

2013 — Tony Martin

2012 — Tony Martin

2011 — Mitch Jackson

2010 — Brandon Bergeron

•••

COMPLETE 2016 MNMMANEWS AWARDS LIST

Fighter of the year — Bobby Lee

Amateur of the year — Alton Cunningham

Coach of the year — Tom Schmitz

Round of the year — Jamie Naasz vs. Nelly Thompson, ATT X

Fight of the year — Damion Hill vs. Brandon Jenkins, October Fist 5

Event of the year — Three River Throwdown X

Knockout of the year — Chase Waldon def. Austen Heidlage, RFA 40

Submission of the year — Matt Veal def. Michael O'Gorman, armless darce

Upset of the year — Ben Neumann def. Jordan Larson, RFA 45

Rookie of the year — No award.