At UFC Rochester, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos defeated Kevin Lee in the fourth round via arm-triangle choke.
The fight was Lee’s first at welterweight, and although he left the octagon with another loss, he put on a great performance. In fact, many believe that the 26-year-old was winning up until getting caught in the slick submission offense of the more experienced Dos Anjos.
Lee now has a difficult choice to make – return to lightweight, or continue pursuing a new path at 170lbs.
At lightweight, Kevin Lee is a force to be reckoned with. The American is ranked in the top 10 of the division and has experience fighting the best the promotion can offer. He holds wins over Michael Chiesa and Edson Barboza; his performance against Barboza is best described as a one-sided beat down. For five rounds straight, Lee successfully dragged the Brazilian to the canvas, pummeling him with ruthless ground and pound, causing the doctor to step in.
The former title challenger seems to have an issue with five round fights, and many thought that the 26-year-old was winning the first three versus Dos Anjos. Mixed martial artist and sports personality Chael Sonnen shared his opinion on the matter.
“If you wanna look at the first 15 minutes of the fight, I think we have a different outcome” said the Bellator athlete, “I thought in many ways he [Lee] showed he was the better fighter.”
If a three-round fight is next for Lee, he has a multitude of options on the horizon.
Islam Makhachev (16-1) is the #13 ranked lightweight in the UFC. He trains alongside champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and has recently burst onto the radar of top-ranked fighters. The Russian poses a threat to every 155lber in the UFC – his relentless pressure, superb grappling and solid striking make for a deadly combination.
Makhachev and Lee have previously displayed interested in fighting each other in the past, with either man taking to social media to negotiate the fight.
— Makhachev Islam (@MAKHACHEVMMA) February 4, 2019
Both men share a similar style; they like to smother opponents and use their extraordinary grappling in order to find ways to win.
If a fight between these two takes place, expect back-and-forth trash talk, deep animosity and a potential barnburner.
If Kevin Lee is searching for another notable name, Vicente Luque (15-6-1) is the right man for the job. The Brazilian is ranked #15 in the welterweight division and holds wins over Niko Price, Belal Muhammad and Bryan Barbarena, which was a contest that fans are already calling “Fight of the Year.”
Luque boasts incredible knockout power and has good takedown defense. A fight such as this one would test Lee’s striking and grappling; he would be able to look his best. Not only would he return to the win column with a victory, but possibly enter the top 15 in the welterweight rankings.
Here’s a name you were likely not expecting to see – Gunnar Nelson.
Gunnar Nelson (17-4-1) is an Icelandic welterweight fighting out of SBG Ireland. This fight would be extremely popular as Nelson is also a fan favorite – his destruction of Alex Oliveira in December and strategic dissecting of Alan Jouban have made him popular with the fans.
There would be no significant size advantage in this matchup: “Gunni” may be slightly taller, but the American would have a five-inch reach advantage.
Both Lee and Nelson are exceptionally well rounded. They possess slick striking, precise takedowns and dangerous submissions. A fight between these men is likely to go one of two ways: Lee outstriking, taking down and controlling Nelson to grind out a unanimous decision win, or “Gunni” beating the former lightweight and submitting him.
Other notable opponents for Lee: Gregor Gillespie, James Vick, Paul Felder, and Mike Perry.
The road towards a title is tougher than ever for Kevin Lee, nonetheless, overcoming adversity is what he does best.