UFC Brasilia: Lee and Oliveira Battle in Uncertain Times

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

With no MMA event guaranteed beyond the immediate future, the battle between Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira at UFC Brasilia takes on new meaning as concerns over the coronavirus grow.

“The Motown Phenom” Kevin Lee is a testament to the fact that an impressive performance is the best solution to quickly alleviate any skid.  Disheartening losses to Al Iaquinta and Rafael dos Anjos (at welterweight) halted the momentum he had built up in his 6-1 run that included fighting for the interim lightweight title.  His fortunes changed quickly in November, however, when he faced Gregor Gillespie.  Going into the fight, Gillespie was praised as arguably the best grappler in the division not named Khabib Nurmagomedov.  In front of a packed Madison Square Garden crowd, Lee delivered a head-kick knockout that was declared one of the best finishes of the year and even drew the praise of President Donald Trump who was in attendance.

As concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) grew over the past several days, Lee was vocal that he was prepared to compete regardless of whether there was an audience or not.  In his own words, “I think the fight should go on.  It’s important that we show we’re not gonna stop living.  If it’s in front of empty seats that’s cool with me, it honestly makes the fight bigger.”

Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira entered the UFC as one of its youngest prospects in 2010 and has been a perennial contender for the past decade.  Through ups and downs, Oliveira has faced top competition such as former champions Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar, and Anthony Pettis.  In 2017, however, it seemed as if the submission ace might have hit a plateau when he went on a 2-4 skid with all four losses coming by stoppage.   Oliveira responded by going on a 6-0 run with all of his victories coming by finish and putting him on the precipice of a breakthrough in the lightweight division.

Should Oliveira get his seventh victory in a row, it would be the third longest active win-streak in the division behind champion Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.  Similar to Lee, a victory would move Oliveira up the ladder significantly in a crowded lightweight division.  After being in the UFC for a decade, this would be the greatest run put together by the Brazilian contender and arguably many would begin to argue that the time is now for him to finally breakthrough into the upper-echelon of the division.  Furthermore, the morale boost to claim the victory at home amid the circumstances is impossible to quantify.

Stylistically, Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu figures to be the x-factor should he end up on the ground against a strong wrestler in Lee.  The Brazilian contender has developed into a respected striker and should look to use his versatile attack to wear-down Lee and get the fight to the mat where he holds the record for the most submissions in UFC history.  Conversely, Lee should look to use his physicality and attack the legs of Oliveira and hamper his mobility early.  So long as he maintains a disciplined attack, he figures to be able to deal more damage with his shots over the course of the fight.

The winner of this fight would likely await the outliers of some of the other match-ups in the lightweight division.  The fight between Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker, as well as the fight between Diego Ferreira and Drew Dober stand out as possible options for the winner of Lee and Oliveira.  Lee in particular has also campaigned for a fight with Islam Makhachev who has also openly called for the match-up; Makhachev is scheduled to face Alexander Hernandez next month.