UFC Rochester: Dos Anjos and Lee Look to Begin New Chapter

Kevin Lee, UFC Rochester UFC 249
Kevin Lee Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Can Rafael dos Anjos snap his losing streak or will Kevin Lee have a successful welterweight debut when the pair collide at UFC Rochester?

The top performances of the past year have been delivered by fighters moving up in weight and achieving huge success.  Amanda Nunes, Daniel Cormier, Ryan Bader, and recently Patricio Freire all moved up and had career defining victories by winning championships in above their natural weight classes.  The success has led to many fighters embracing the trend and fighting in weight classes where previously they may have been considered undersized.  Kevin Lee will be the latest to join the fray as he takes on fellow lightweight turned welterweight Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC Rochester.

Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has enjoyed a fantastic UFC career.  Apart from hoisting gold himself, he has also bested former champions such as Robbie Lawler, Anthony Pettis, and Benson Henderson.  Going into last year, he was the number one contender and next in line to face Tyron Woodley for the welterweight championship.  But going into the fight with Lee, he has his back against the wall to prove his relevancy in the UFC rankings.

Currently, fighters like Ben Askren, Jorge Masvidal, and Santiago Ponzinibbio are all in play to potentially vie for the welterweight title after Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington collide later this year.  Dos Anjos ended up becoming a springboard for both men to get into the title picture in 2018, and getting a rematch with either man will take an incredible campaign at 34 years of age.  An authoritative victory over Lee keeps him in the top ten and seeking match-ups that could move him forward.  A loss would be his third straight and could virtually shut the door on ever returning to the title.

“The Motown Phenom” Lee has long discussed a move up to 170 pounds, but the timing wasn’t right until now.  Last year, he was on the short list for a title shot at lightweight before being bested for the second time by Al Iaquinta.  Looking at the lightweight title picture, virtually all the major players are currently in motion and any new contender to emerge will not be able to fight for the title until 2020 at the earliest if everyone stays healthy and active.  For Lee, the hope is that a productive run at welterweight could get him close to the belt.

At 26 years old, Kevin Lee is at the perfect age for reinvention.  He’s developed from a raw wrestler to one of the most powerful athletes in the lightweight division.  His body will benefit from not having to cut the extra fifteen pounds at welterweight, and he is young enough to do the physical training to perform optimally in a new weight class.  While he has not closed the door on a return to 155, one would imagine that a run at 170 will lead him to putting a lightweight return far into the rear-view mirror.

Stylistically, Dos Anjos should look to use his diversified attack to keep Lee on the defensive.  Wearing down “The Motown Phenom” with kicks and volume will test the endurance of Lee who has at times faded late in fights.  Dos Anjos also possesses a fantastic ground game and getting Lee on his back will neutralize his most formidable weapons.

Lee will look to use his physicality to bring forward pressure to Dos Anjos.  At 170, Lee is expected to have more energy which figures to translate into a higher work rate.  He should look to keep dos Anjos fighting with his back to the fence where fighters like Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman were successful in shutting down the offense of the former lightweight champion.  His best route to success will be to force dos Anjos to the ground where he can unload with ground-and-pound at a smothering rate.

Next for the winner will be a match-up with another ranked opponent.  For the third ranked dos Anjos, the timing could be right to face former champion Tyron Woodley who will be coming back from a recently announced hand injury.  Other feasible opponents for both men include Darren Till, Leon Edwards, and Elizeu dos Santos.