UFC 244: Lee and Gillespie Battle for Relevance

Kevin Lee UFC
Kevin Lee Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Kevin Lee and Gregor Gillespie throw down at UFC 244 in a match not at all dissimilar to Lee’s clash with Michael Chiesa earlier in his career.

Back in June 2017 when he took on the Michael Chiesa, Kevin Lee was still a rising contender. Given the kind of stalwarts the lightweight division had, he was one among the many who were overlooked.  The division back then had Eddie Alvarez, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dustin Poirier and other established contenders chasing down then-champion Conor McGregor for a title shot. For any kind of attention in the division, you had to build up a credible super-heavy resume while doing something to catch fans’ attention.

A controversial clash at the summer kick-off press conference got his match against fellow rising contender Michael Chiesa the attention Lee needed. MMA fans began noticing the impressive streak he was on; after managing to get the win against Chiesa, Lee became someone they started investing in. However, that interest came with its own by-products, namely becoming a contender for the title and a serious step-up in competition. Foe Lee, the first challenge came in the form of a largely premature title opportunity against Tony Ferguson, which too not anyone’s surprise he lost. That loss, for the interim belt, didn’t do too much harm overall, but did slow the hype train.

It was in 2018 did his brand came under massive scrutiny. A win against Edson Barbosa did keep his name value alive, however a second subpar performance against Al Iaquinta (after their first meeting in 2014) and an unsuccessful welterweight debut put a considerable deep dent in Lee’s image. Fast-forward to today, and Kevin Lee is now facing a difficult situation. MMA fans have a very short memory, and “The Motown Phenom” hasn’t delivered a winning performance in the last 18 months. If he wants to stay relevant in the most volatile division of this unpredictable sport, Lee needs to get a win.

Enter Gregor Gillespie, a four-time NCAA Division I All-American with an undefeated record of 13-0. The former Ring Of Combat lightweight champion has slowly built himself a very impressive resume, and now is a fighter people want to see pitted against the sharks of the division. While it would be hyperbole to call Lee a stalwart, one can’t ignore the fact that he once competed for the interim title, thus making him a very credible force in the division.

Gillespie enters the fight against Lee on a very similar note as Lee entered his own fight against Chiesa. ‘The Gift’ is on a lengthy winning streak and is someone whom fans are finally investing in. He has proven his credential time and again by delivering consistent performances. However, unlike Lee who was facing a rising force in the lightweight division Gillespie faces a well-established name in the division in Lee. Where Chiesa himself was looking for recognition, Lee here is looking to keep the spotlight on him.

A win here sends a very strong message for either man. For Gillespie, it proves that he has arrived in the lightweight division and his journey to the title shot begins. For Lee, it’s more about reminding people that he’s still here and here to stay. The two are bound to put on an interesting fight and it should be fun to see who comes out on top.

UFC 244 takes place Saturday, November 2. The card airs exclusively on ESPN+ PPV in the U.S. after televised and online prelims, and on BT Sport in the UK. In India, the card airs live on November 3 on SONY Ten 2 and SONY Ten 2 HD.