Where does Kevin Lee go from his 170lb debut loss?
Kevin Lee is one of those fighters that has been talked about for many years. He has been pushed by the UFC machine and appeared to have all the attributes required to be an MMA star. However, he appears to be squandering his opportunity, in which, currently he is 1-3 in his last 4 fights and 2-3 in 5 round fights. In recent times Kevin Lee has come out of his shell after starting off as quiet wrestling based style.
The questions now are has Lee been focussing too much on his “personality” rather than his fighting? Has he abandoned his wrestling-heavy style to become a fan favourite? Or is he a man who doesn’t yet know his true potential?
Lee came into the UFC in 2014 at the age of 21 with a record of 7-0. A talented high school and college wrestler, going undefeated with a record of 37-0 in his sophomore year, the young Lee faced Al Iaquinta in his debut. Lee would lose in his first effort, but was given another opportunity to show his skill and defeated Jesse Ronson by split decision.
Over his next 8 fights, he would only lose once via TKO to veteran Leonardo Santos but was winning fights against more experienced and talented fighters including Efrain Escudero, Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa. It was during this tenure that Lee went from boring decision fighter to gaining 5 finishes to his name, including 4 submissions.
Lee was finally moving up the rankings, getting regular stoppages and many fans believed he would be a future champion, most likely sooner, rather than later. This was all by the time he was only 23.
Then he faced Tony Ferguson for the interim UFC Lightweight Title at UFC 216. The fight statistically was close. Lee had the advantage everywhere apart from striking percentages. However, something shone through in this fight that we hadn’t particularly seen from Lee before. In the 3rd round, he started to gas. He gassed hard. Ferguson was able to capitalise and he ended up finishing the fight with a triangle choke.
This is where it was expected that he worked on this issue, however, it didn’t seem so. Admittedly for his return fight after the Ferguson loss, Lee dominated opponent Edson Barboza and beat him via doctor stoppage in the 5th round. Even this win didn’t come without issue though, as Lee weighed in at 157 and the fight had to be reset at catchweight.
Lee then lost his next lightweight fight against former title contender Al Iaquinta, a man he lost his first UFC fight to. Lee was abundant with confidence calling Iaquinta a ‘drunken Jersey boy’ and that it would be Lee’s ‘personal duty’ to send Iaquinta back to the prelims. If you say these things and back them up, you look a hero. If you say these things and lose, it will come back to bite. But that’s the opportunity cost of trash talk, it’s what gets many fighters notices though. Lee ending up losing pretty handily, unfortunately his cardio once again seemed less than stellar.
So Lee then set his sights on Welterweight. No longer was the issue of his fighting style or training, it was his weight. Even though he had only ever missed weight once in the UFC, he opted to move up. Lee was lined up against Rafael Dos Anjos in his welterweight debut, a tough matchup by all means.
Dos Anjos is a former Lightweight champion and all around MMA legend, who was on a two-fight skid at Welterweight. Even though it was a close fight, Lee seemed to be gassed from midway through the third round. Dos Anjos used his experience and formidable engine to move forward and finish Lee. In the end, Dos Anjos made it look easy with a neat arm triangle choke. Locking it in and forcing Lee to tap out.
Where does Lee go from here? Has the Welterweight experiment failed him? For me personally, at his age of 26 and with his build, 155 is where he should be. He should return to his roots and get that high-level wrestling in again with his boxing mixed in. Being dominant by using a wrestling heavy style may look boring to some, but look at what it has done for many of fighter’s career by fighting like that.
For me though, a change in perspective on training and working hard towards his goals will allow him to achieve what he is capable of. Lee is an athletic beast that has huge potential and 26 we are yet to discover his best form.