Keith Lee has opened up about the medical issues that led to a prolonged absence from WWE television and left him wondering if his in-ring days were over.
Lee’s career on NXT was filled with high points as he became the first NXT Superstar to capture both the NXT North American Championship and the NXT Title at the same time.
After SummerSlam 2020 Keith Lee was brought up to the main roster of WWE as part of the Raw brand. In his first few months on the red brand, he shared the ring with the likes of Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, and even challenged Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship.
It was in the run-up to Elimination Chamber in February 2021 when things began to look amiss for Lee. He was pulled from a Triple Threat Match for the US Championship at the event and it would be five months before Lee was seen on WWE television again.
It later came to light that Keith Lee had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and that the virus had caused issues surrounding his heart. Speaking on the Out of Character Podcast Keith Lee spoke honestly about his medical problems:
“I wasn’t feeling bad at first of all originally. There were things that were going on that I didn’t really understand. The problem is with this COVID thing is that no one really knows what’s going on right. It’s this trial and error and everyone is experiencing different things and sometimes these after-effects hit people differently, sometimes COVID hits people differently.”
“Some people, it doesn’t really hit at all and in my case, I just assumed I would be fine. I tested positive and I came back after three weeks and then I had that match with Riddle on February 8th and then the next day I got a call saying there was something odd in my blood which kind of gave the idea that there was an inflammation.”
“That led to multiple MRIs and really uncomfortable machines that jammed up my shoulder, at the time I felt some things that were odd but I didn’t understand them to be that.”
“I just assumed because other people were having different scenarios that were odd post-COVID that it was going to take me a little bit longer to get back to normal than others. It led to ‘Hey man, we need you to not work out, not do anything until we figure this out.’”
Lee then admitted he wanted to focus on fighting his battle without the glare of the outside world looking in as he contemplated that his days as a wrestler could be coming to an end:
“Then it became very uncomfortable because even though I knew what the potential endgame could be, I wasn’t telling my family, I wasn’t telling the media and that’s because it’s something that’s not in our control. It’s something I didn’t want them to stress about so it was a personal battle that I took on on my own and for the most part stayed quiet about regardless of timing.”
“Me, I’m generally a pretty private person so it took me a long time to be okay with sharing what was going on because it was my own personal fight and I wanted to fight it. There was nothing more important than fighting it to me. To this day I still have some friends that are suffering from effects that are post COVID.”
“At the end of the day, I’m just grateful I was able to come back and be back in the ring. That fourth or fifth MRI when I had to go to Pittsburgh, I was resigned to the fact that my career was done. I was just ready to be like okay, I guess it’s time to pursue some extra projects that I have interest in, and then I got some good news.”
Fortunately, the man now known as Keith “Bearcat” Lee was able to return to action in July and although he has only been seen on WWE TV a handful of times he has been competing regularly in dark matches. Lee also explained the training and work that had to go into making his comeback after so long on the shelf:
“It took a lot of work to come back because when you’re a 330-340 pound athlete, the amount of training and power and explosiveness it takes to be a guy that does backflips.”
“Five months of being out, then coming back out of nowhere, it was five weeks of just dying. Trying to comeback was like oh god, how have I not trained a thing and then I come back and just try to cardio everything just trying to get back to normal, man.”
“I didn’t know what normal was anymore so it was very strange, now I can get back and have higher intensity workouts so it was nice when I could feel like okay, I’m about where I felt like I should be. I still feel like there’s work to be done at the end of the day but the grind continues and I will keep on grinding.”