Kevin Lee feels like a fighter who should be in the title hunt, having contested for interim gold once before. Yet the situation at lightweight heading into UFC on FOX 31 means Lee has a considerable mountain ahead of him.
This weekend in Milwaukee, Kevin Lee is scheduled to face ‘Raging’ Al Iaquinta at UFC on FOX 31. Lee currently finds himself ranked #4 and Iaquinta at #5, but how close would Kevin Lee be to a title shot with a win on Saturday? And where is his ceiling in the lightweight division?
Kevin Lee’s an incredibly talented grappler and his striking, while further behind his grappling, is nothing to scoff at. Sure, Lee got himself into trouble against Edson Barboza and got choked out by Tony Ferguson in his last two fights — but his wrestling was good enough to neutralize Barboza’s offense and secure a doctor’s stoppage. Remaining competitive against #1 ranked Tony Ferguson is an accomplishment in itself.
It appears Kevin Lee would easily dispatch of anyone at or below the #9 ranked Michael Chiesa based on his past performances. He’d be likely to have competitive match-ups with Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and, given his takedown defense, Conor McGregor, who he’d give problems with his wrestling.
Kevin Lee’s skill set isn’t the problem here, however. It’s that he doesn’t talk well enough to will his way into an undeserved title shot. Given the drama at the top of the division, that’s the reality at lightweight today. Lee’s promos leave a lot to be desired. As it stands, ‘The Motown Phenom’ would need to put together a significant win streak or have the fighters ranked above him lose if he has any hopes of competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship.
The political atmosphere of the UFC doesn’t help Lee’s case for a potential title shot, either. Conor McGregor would get a title shot over Kevin Lee because his fights do bigger numbers. Tony Ferguson’s already beaten Lee, Dustin Poirier’s run has been incredible and people are already calling for a rematch with Conor McGregor — something that would secure Poirier a title shot. Max Holloway would be chosen ahead of Lee if the UFC needed a contender for Khabib Nurmagomedov to face.
So that’s where we find ourselves now — at the base of Kevin Lee’s improbable climb to a title fight. Should Kevin Lee avenge his UFC 169 loss to the Al Iaquanta this weekend, he’s two fights into the streak he desperately needs to put together to be considered for a championship opportunity.
Perhaps Lee can put together a string of successful victories before he’s too big to make the cut to 155lbs, which he’s already had trouble with in the past — but Al Iaquinta, Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, and Max Holloway stand in his way. An absolute murderer’s row.
UFC on FOX 31 takes place Saturday, December 15 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.