Manager reflects on Keith Lee’s awe-inspiring transition from Bellator fighter to viral food critic

Keith Lee wasn’t exactly a household name when he was fighting under the Bellator banner.

During his brief run with the promotion that began in 2020, Lee did have some buzz around him as the younger brother of former UFC interim lightweight title challenger Kevin Lee. However, his popularity is nowhere near what it is today. Lee’s videos critiquing food on social media propelled him to viral stardom.

What started as cooking tutorials in his own home became reviews of local small restaurants. Now, after amassing millions of views and followers, the “Keith Lee and Family Food Tour” has the former Bellator fighter traveling across the country offering genuine, unfiltered reviews of various food spots.

His words have become an incredibly powerful positive force, too. A glowing review from Lee will cause an immediate flood of traffic, creating lines around the building for a restaurant that would otherwise only see a handful of customers per day – a phenomenon known as “the Keith Lee effect.” His fight manager, SuckerPunch Entertainment’s Brian Butler, is amazed at his client’s journey.

“I’m watching him in awe just like everybody else,” Butler said. “It’s incredible to see the actual impact that he has. Did you see the thing that he did for the Korean BBQ family in Vegas? A big line because I guess the father or the owner just recently passed away and he wanted everybody to show up and show love.

“I’ve never seen a social media star with more influence – and when I say influence, I don’t mean followers. I mean like influence, as actually making somebody do something. He does it everywhere he goes, and it’s incredible to see. I’m really happy for him and proud of him for the way that he’s carried himself and the work that he’s doing because it’s really changing lives.”

Aside from offering advice during the occasional conversation, Butler says Lee, 27, is fully in control of his new career path. Lee’s TikTok account has over 15.6 million followers, with each video reaching millions of views with ease.

“He does all the edits himself,” Butler said. “You know, the way he cuts in to his face and cuts out, and all that stuff? That’s all him. All of that is so cleverly produced by him along with his camera presence.

“I told him, I was like, ‘Dude, just do not stop doing this. Whatever you’re posting, I’m watching from start to finish, regardless of what you’re talking about. It’s just because the way you are presenting yourself on camera.’ … I’ve got to go back and find that text message because this was before Keith Lee was Keith Lee. This was when Keith Lee was Bellator fighter Keith Lee and he didn’t really have any followers on TikTok. It’s just awesome to see that he’s just blown up the way that he has.”

With fighting in his rear-view, Butler isn’t quite sure if he’s completely done with combat sports. Lee has 13 professional fights under his belt with a career record of 8-5. His last outing was a split decision win over Jeremiah Labiano at Urijah Faber’s AI Combat 5 in September 2022. If that was his final fight, Butler is more than happy to see his client succeed in other avenues.

“We’ll see. He’s busy and happy doing what he’s doing now, but if he wants to call me and say he wanted to fight, sky’s the limit,” Butler said. “That would be as big as any Jake Paul fight out there if he came back and fought. I think he’s got a fanbase that is actually more mainstream.

“… But does he need to? I’m completely happy and proud of him not fighting. He’s providing for his family, he’s making an incredible leaving. Why? Unless, which he does, have the fighter spirit inside of him, and he just wants to compete, then I’m all for it. But definitely doesn’t need to do it for a paycheck. He doesn’t need it.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie