Kevin Lee and Al Iaquinta will look to get into the title picture in 2019 as they collide for the second time at UFC Milwaukee on the final card of the FOX era.
The UFC lightweight title picture is complicated, to say the least. The state of Nevada will not determine the fates of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor late next month while both Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier have cases for a shot at the belt. Kevin Lee and Al Iaquinta will attempt to sort out the madness by squaring off at the final card of the FOX era and break into the top three in 2019.
“The Motown Phenom” Kevin Lee might be one of the most electrifying contenders at any other time in the lightweight division. But in 2018, he’s been relegated to the middle of the pack despite being an impressive 10-3 in the UFC since he made his debut 2014. He’s scored finishes in his last five victories and is coming off his best performance to date in dominating perennial contender Edson Barboza. That fight, in particular, showed Lee’s incredible durability by eating a dangerous spinning back-kick and rallying back to continue dominating the fight.
While the loss to Tony Ferguson for the interim title is only a year ago, Lee would appear to be on the cusp of title contention once again with a victory. At 26 years old, he has plenty of prime fighting years left and has plenty of upside as the UFC enters a new era with ESPN next year.
“Raging” Al Iaquinta has found a way to stay consistent as one of the top fighters in the lightweight division despite several layoffs. He has been vocal about his pay in the past and during his absence has said he was better off financially working in real estate. However, he’s maximized recent opportunities and has said that money is no longer an issue.
In May, he switched opponents on 24 hours notice to step up from a fight with Paul Felder to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov. Despite coming up short in the five-round contest, the performance is now seen in a different light as Iaquinta under the circumstances gave more problems to Nurmagomedov than Conor McGregor did in their highly publicized fight. The fight with Lee is a chance to leap back into contention and set himself up for a top-five opponent in his next outing.
The two have fought once before, with Iaquinta giving a then 21-year-old Lee his first loss back in 2014. That fight was a back-and-forth affair where Lee dominated the second round but Iaquinta’s striking in the first and third won him the contest. Going into Saturday’s contest, “The Motown Phenom” is physically one of the most powerful athletes in the division and whose wrestling has become one of the most dangerous weapons at 155 today. Lee will look to come forward where he can look to beat-down Iaquinta or set up a takedown so he can use a smothering strategy with his wrestling.
Iaquinta does his best work by picking his spots on the feet with straight punches and wearing his opponents down against the fence. Volume will be the key against Lee as Iaquinta should not wait for him to initiate the offense. By working behind the jab and getting in-and-out, Iaquinta will force Lee to take more risks to make up the deficit and thus leave more openings that can be capitalized on.
Both men will set up big fights going into 2019 should they leave Milwaukee with a victory. Dustin Poirier stands out as a possible opponent, while the winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Anthony Pettis is another. In a year where the lightweight division has been the center of attention, it is only fitting that a lightweight contest with contenders like Lee and Iaquinta bring down the final curtain on the FOX era.