The Motown Phenom has been on the radar of most fight fans since 2017 when he submitted Michael Chiesa. From that point he has shown flashes of brilliance, dominating Edson Barboza, going toe to toe with Tony Ferguson for the interim title, and his highlight reel head kick of undefeated Gregor Gillespie. However, along his path, Kevin Lee has also stumbled just as much both beating some of the best and losing to them. Showing he has the skills to be a contender but also losing to the skills of contenders. This has left many fans wondering where Lee really fits into his division.
He will meet the perfect opponent to answer this question when he faces Daniel Rodriguez at welterweight this Saturday. D-Rod currently boasts a 5-1 record in the octagon, rounding out with two career-high performances against Mike Perry and Preston Parsons. As he rises through the ranks he has looked sharp but has not faced the level which Kevin Lee should represent — for Rodriguez, this could spell a ticket into the top echelon of fighters, for Lee, it’s proof he still belongs there.
Lee vs. Rodriguez betting odds
Although Lee is coming off a loss and Rodriguez two wins, the level of competition still heavily weighs in Lee’s favor. Subsequently, Rodriguez will be coming into the fight as the slight underdog.
Lee vs. Rodriguez Breakdown
Kevin Lee utilizes a very long and low stance, more akin to something seen in a grappling match. This allows him to easily sprawl, or change levels for the takedown himself. He has decent boxing, with very good shot selection, he mixes it up between his jab, lead hook, and uppercuts well but a lack in dynamic footwork sometimes leaves him in the pocket to receive punches before he can get out of range too. In the orthodox stance, he has a wicked right body kick and although rarely used his stepping left high kick has finishing power behind it as evident against Gillespie.
His stance is very important to his grappling game, which is where Lee really does his best. He is a great submission artist but his background in wrestling always shines through. This is obvious in his balance between top and bottom game, Lee is a fighter who very much likes being the hammer but falters when he ends up being the nail. From top control, he is very good at crushing his opponents into the fence or chest to chest on floor and exploding through the guard into scarf hold or side control where he can then scramble into mount or take your back. From the back, Lee is particularly dangerous.
However he does lack a bit of a competitive guard game, he prefers to instead look to explode back to his feet or sweep which sometimes leaves room for his opponents to find submissions. This is most problematic late, in fights where Lee controls the pace he has been fine over five rounds, but back and forth fights in which Lee has had to shift between offense and defense often has led him to gas out. It is at this point where old wrestling habits from the bottom have really opened up the submission possibilities against him.
For a fighter with such a ferocious presence, Daniel Rodriguez sticks to a very disciplined and clean approach before sensing the finish. A southpaw, ‘D-Rod’ fights long behind the jab, taking care to win the foot position battle. He keeps his right foot on the outside of his orthodox opponents and picks apart his opponent with a jab while they try to move to his right. This opens up the straight left hand which he uses to break the guard. He sticks to mostly his straight shots because it allows him to stay at a longer boxing range where he can also chop at the legs.
This is because whenever his opponents start to find any momentum on the feet, Rodriguez is very good at fading away tall with side to side head movement. He shifts off line and resets- negating his opponent’s offense and not entertaining the idea of trading. However when he does have his opponents hurt he very readily goes in for the kill.
His ability to stay long also helps him defend takedowns as it takes his opponents an extra step to close the distance. On his back, his goal is almost always to get to the fence to stand up or feet on the hips and create room to stand up. He does hold four submissions on record but none typically attacked from the bottom, and for the most part early in his career. Rarely would hunting the submission be a plan A.
Lee vs. Rodriguez Prediction
In a general sense, Lee’s path of least resistance to the win is in the takedown. Rodriguez would very much rather keep it standing. Coming up a weight class, Lee will already be at a slight size disadvantage which accentuates the reach difference that Rodriguez uses so well. This will make it difficult for Lee to find D-Rod’s chin consistently, especially with Lee’s heavy-footed stance against D-Rod’s lighter one.
However I also don’t see Rodriguez being able to stop the takedowns throughout the entire fight, and the experience especially on the ground will be evident. Due to the nature of Rodriguez’s game, Lee does not have to worry about working off his back much, which is where he may have the most holes. Look for Lee to put on a smothering pace early, which in a three-round fight he should be able to sustain.
Prediction: Kevin Lee wins by decision
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.