Kevin Lee explains how he was inspired to tattoo a helmet onto his entire head
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
It’s not uncommon to hear fighters talk about “falling in love” with MMA again after becoming disinterested in the sport – or just losing motivation for whatever reason.
Kevin Lee didn’t exactly lose his passion for fighting, but he was also forced to take an extended break from action after undergoing two major knee surgeries in the past year, which gave him a lot of time to reflect.
It was during his recovery from surgery that Lee began pushing his body in new ways that he had never done before, which included extended trips to the weight room as he packed on extra muscle.
“I’ve got to give it to the UFC [Performance Institute], they’ve really kept me on track and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them and I kind of just did everything they asked me to do and told me to do,” Lee said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I worked every single day from there.
“It’s kind of made me fall back in love with the sport a little bit by having to do stuff I don’t normally do. I’m not just running, doing the same thing over and over. It was kind of a good break almost.”
It was also during this time off that Lee debuted a rather large addition to his body art collection after he had a helmet tattooed all the way around the sides and back of his head.
While tattoos are almost commonplace at this point in virtually any walk of life, there are certain parts of the body that are rarer than others when it comes to extensive work. A near-full head piece of ink would certainly fall into that category, but that also played a huge part in why Lee wanted it in the first place.
“I got it because I realized I’m sitting in quarantine, I’m sitting with my knees busted up,” Lee explained. “I can’t get out. I can’t train. I’m like damn, what do I want to do today? Cause I really actually want to fight. That’s what I want to do.
“I took a little bit of inspiration from rappers. A lot of them will tattoo they face and stuff like this, and I’ve heard a few people say they do it because it’s almost like you can’t go back at that point.”
In the tattoo community, the term “job stopper” refers to ink placed on a part of the body of a client that’s much harder to cover in social settings. Those areas include hands, the neck and anywhere on the face or head. Some artists will actually decline to tattoo those areas unless a person is already sporting heavy ink.
A New York Times report on the rise of “job stopper” tattoos in the music industry quoted one creative director with ink on his face as saying, “There’s no turning back … there’s no normal job or whatever.”
While Lee didn’t actually get tattooed on his face, the sides and the back of his head are now decorated with an intricate piece of ink that’s tough to miss. But he added that the actual meaning behind it also spoke to him about the location where he got it done.
“I tatted the helmet on me to remind me what I actually do,” Lee said. “It will be something that follows me for the rest of my life. I spent the prime of my life as a warrior. So it just made sense to kind of remind myself everyday, it’s hard to not finish that extra run. It’s hard not to finish that extra round when you’ve got a f*cking helmet tatted on you.
“As the restart of my career, not a lot of people have seen me with this so I feel like it’s going to elevate me in all different aspects. People are noticing me now. A lot more than even when I was at the peak, I felt like in my career. After the first couple fights with this tatted on me, I feel like it’s going to take it to a new level.”
Of course, Lee can’t promise that his passion for fighting will never wane again. But his tattoo will always serve as a reminder of the career he chose and why he needs to chase his dreams in combat sports with as much ferocity as possible.
“Motivation comes and goes and I think you hear that even from the most successful people of all time,” Lee said. “Motivation comes and goes so you’ve got to force yourself. That’s what being disciplined is. It’s just part of the discipline in a weird kind of roundabout way.”