In an attempt to continue the trend of UFC fighters finding success after moving up a weight class, Kevin Lee will be headlining this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 152 event in a highly anticipated bout against Rafael Dos Anjos.
Typically, a fighter’s first bout in a new weight class is met with fervent skepticism of their potential for victory, but due to Lee being on the larger side of the 155-pound roster this move could prove fruitful. Well-rounded in all aspects of fighting, Kevin Lee posses the skills necessary to find success in the welterweight division. As for whether he will be able to overcome his first welterweight obstacle in the form of Rafael Dos Anjos, that is another question.
On His Feet
Although the majority of Kevin Lee’s success in the Octagon has come from his takedown and top control game, he is more than skilled on his feet with the ability to attack from both the southpaw and orthodox stances. When fighting from southpaw, which is his preferred stance, Lee looks to utilize his stiff right jab to keep his opponents at range so that he can attack with a powerful rear kick.
What makes the rear kick such a formidable weapon for Lee is that as the majority of fighters work from an orthodox stance, Lee’s kick is likely to land on the opponent’s stomach or chest. This is much more effective than a kick from the orthodox stance, which is likely to land on the opponent’s shoulder, arm or back.
Here we see Lee throw a left high kick against Edson Barboza. Notice how because the two fighters are in the “open” stance (opposite stances) the kick has the necessary distance to accrue substantial power.
Here we see Lee working his jab to keep Al Iaquinta at range so that he can throw multiple kicks. The first kick lands directly on Al’s midsection, while the second is thrown at the head. Both of these kicks would be less effective if Iaquinta and Lee were in the same stance, as they would land on the hard bone of Iaquinta’s shoulder and back instead of the fleshy midsection.
When he is fighting from a traditional orthodox stance, Lee looks to use this same tactic of targetting his opponent’s “open” side with front leg kicks. Notice how the kicks are distinctly slower and less powerful as they are now coming from the lead leg.
Here we see Lee use three lead leg kicks from the orthodox stance at the onset of his bout with Al Iaquinta. Notice how these kicks are thrown at the body, intended to sap Iaquinta’s cardio in case the fight extends into the later rounds.
While Lee almost exclusively uses his jab from the southpaw stance, while fighting orthodox he employs his cross frequently, often in the form of a 1-2. As a perfect illustration of Lee’s preferred strikes from each stance, in this clip we see him throw a 1-2 from the orthodox stance, then switch to southpaw and begin to work his jab.
In the Transition
As previously mentioned, Kevin Lee is most successful when he is able to ride his opponents with his high-level top game, dealing damage through constant ground and pound. In order to implement this strategy, he has to take his opponent down. Here we see Lee use his favorite takedown, the Double Leg on Al Iaquinta.
While typically fighters utilize strikes to force their opponent to cover up so they can change levels for the shot, Lee prefers to wait for his opponents to step toward him to strike. In both the clip above against Al Iaquinta, and the one below against Edson Barboza, Lee baits his opponent into throwing a jab, then ducks under for the shot.
Typically a jab is thrown by stepping forward with the lead foot to extend the range of the punch. By slowly wading into range, Lee baits his opponent into stepping forward to throw a jab. Once they do, they have committed their weight to their front foot, allowing Lee to shoot down low, attacking the weighted leg and taking them down.
On the Floor
The strongest aspect of Kevin Lee’s game is his skillful top control and punishing ground and pound. Once Lee has dragged his opponent to the mat, he immediately gets to work beating them to a pulp with vicious elbows and punches. His latest victory over Edson Barboza was a full case study in ground and pound, as Lee was able to pin the Brazilian beneath him, bludgeoning his way to a fifth-round doctor’s stoppage.
Although he can obviously deal damage from top positions such as half guard and mount, Lee’s ultimate goal is to take his opponent’s back and lock in the Body Triangle. In this clip below, we see Lee riding Al Iaquinta. He is throwing powerful shots, incentivizing Iaquinta to climb to his knees. Once Iaquinta moves to his knees in an attempt to stand, Lee now has the space to sneak his right foot through for the Body Triangle. Notice how he immediately moves his right foot to the left side of Iaquinta’s body, foregoing the classic back hooks and locking in the Triangle.
Lee’s preference for the Body Triangle is due to the fact that while back hooks allow the attacker to stretch out their opponent to work for the Rear Naked Choke, the Back Triangle allows the attacker a more secure method of control with their legs, so that their hands are free to strike. Here we see Lee attempting to work for the strangle, before electing to attack Iaquinta with vicious elbows instead.
This is not to say that Kevin Lee is not proficient with the Rear Naked Choke; five of his professional victories have come by way of RNC, just that it is not his first option. Instead of trying to stretch the opponent out and limit himself to the submission, Lee looks to stay on the back and deal damage from the Triangle, latching onto his opponent’s neck once they begin moving their hands away from their neck to stop the elbow.
The Weaknesses of Kevin Lee
Although Kevin Lee is a formidable striker, wrestler, and grappler, he is not without weakness. He tires in later rounds (which greatly hinders his powerful rear kicks and double legs), and has always struggled with his footwork, specifically retreating straight back and being trapped against the cage as we see below.
In this longer clip, we see a more consequence effect of inadequate footwork as Lee continues to circle to his left, straight into Al Iaquinta’s power hand. As a result of failing to circle away from Iaquinta’s power, Lee eats an uppercut, hook, straight, and then eventually a high kick.
As for whether it will be “The Motown Phenom’s” dangerous and well-rounded offense that provides him with victory, or the cardio and footwork issues that lead to defeat at the hands of Rafael Dos Anjos, we will just have to wait and see at UFC Fight Night 152.