MMAjunkie Radio co-host and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of UFC Fight Night 128’s top bouts. Today, we look at the Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee main event.
UFC Fight Night 128 takes place Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., and the card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
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Edson Barboza (19-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC)
- Height: 5’11” Age: 32 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 75″
- Last fight: Decision loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov (Dec. 30, 2017)
- Camp: Ricardo Almeida Jiu-jitsu (New Jersey)
- Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai
- Risk management: Good
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Multiple muay Thai accolades
^ Record of 25-3 (22 by KO)
+ 11 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Good feints and footwork
+ Improved boxing technique
^ Jabs, pivots, check-hooks, etc.
+ Devastating leg kicks
+ Accurate spinning attacks
+ Underrated counter wrestling
^ 83 percent takedown defense
+ Solid butterfly guard
^ Good getup urgency
Kevin Lee (16-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC)
- Height: 5’9″ Age: 25 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 77″
- Last fight: Submission loss to Tony Ferguson (Oct. 7, 2017)
- Camp: Xtreme Couture (Las Vegas)
- Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing
- Risk management: Good
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Collegiate wrestler (NCAA Division II)
+ 1 KO victory
+ 8 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ Improved footwork and movement
+ Works well when coming forward
^ Puts together punches and kicks well
+ Strong inside of the clinch
^ Effectively chains from bodylock
+ Excellent offensive and reactive shots
^ Has taken down 11 of 12 UFC opponents
+ Intelligent transitional grappler
^ Positionally aware/fights hands
+ Dangerous back taker
^ Heavy hips and crushing chokes
The main event in Atlantic City features a lightweight battle between Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee.
Coming off a loss to now-champion Khabib Nurmagomedov back at UFC 219, Barboza will be looking to get back in the win column in front of his newly adopted home of New Jersey. Also in search of a rebound is Lee, another proven talent at 155 pounds who happens to be coming off a loss to the former interim champion Tony Ferguson.
Starting off on the feet, Barboza will be the fighter with the striking edge on paper.
Storming onto the UFC scene with thunderous leg kicks, Barboza became renowned for his initial impressions of violence that reminded fans why they shouldn’t step inside the octagon. After a few years of mixed success, Barboza made his way up to New Jersey to train with Mark Henry, a coach who has quietly helped him improve his footwork and fundamentals within the boxing realm.
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From hitting pivots to stepping off to the appropriate sides, the Brazilian can now better facilitate his punches and overall offense. Barboza has always possessed an underrated counter right-hand (seen early in his fight with Donald Cerrone) but has since developed his left hand under said upgrades.
Throwing his jab with much more efficiency, it is the improvements of Barboza’s check-hook that may serve him well in this fight. Utilizing the check-hook to punch out of exchanges or catch opponents coming in, I suspect it may come in handy against an engaging Lee, whose seemingly has a history with taking unfavorable shots from that side.
Still, Barboza will need to be careful not to overcommit to his checks, something that could cost him considering the level-changing threats of his ever-improving opponent.
Despite not being known for his striking game, Lee has quietly made improvements of his own under the care of Dewey Cooper. From his footwork to fundamentals, Lee has been displaying an understanding of defensive and offensive angles, getting more confident in his abilities every time he competes.
And with improved head movement typically accompanying upgraded footwork, Lee has also demonstrated much more discipline in rolling his head offline with his punches, something that should assist him in avoiding counters.
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That said, the developing talent may not want to test his striking skills too much in this matchup.
Although Lee was able to stun Francisco Trinaldo standing (which is no easy feat), he will most certainly be playing with fire if he trades with Barboza for longer than he needs to.
For that reason, I believe that the wrestling exchanges will play a crucial and telling role in this battle’s narrative.
Since Barboza’s early encounters with wrestlers the likes of Jamie Varner and Danny Castillo, the nine-year pro has steadily strengthened his counter wrestling acumen. Even in his recent fight against Nurmagomedov – a fighter who can seemingly out-wrestle the entire lightweight lot – Barboza was still able to contest with his counterparts underhooks, creating enough space for separations despite being dead tired in the final frame.
Nevertheless, Barboza still may end up feeling the next best thing when it comes to wrestling pressure at 155 pounds, and that’s not hyperbole.
From Lee’s superb technique to his natural gifts of athleticism and reach, the former NCAA Division II national qualifier has a knack for finding the hips of his opponents. Working particularly well from the bodylock, Lee does a great job of chaining off his takedown approaches, either taking the path of least resistance or paving one of his own.
Should Lee ground Barboza, he cannot get too greedy in advancements or get away from controls.
Among the Brazilian’s ability to use the cage to stand, Barboza also wields an underrated butterfly guard that he utilizes well to help him create space. Whether he is against the fence or working from a modified guard, I imagine that Barboza has only continued to fill in these holes during his time spent with Frankie Edgar and company in New Jersey.
But if Barboza fails to find answers fast, then he may be in for another long night at the office.
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A phenomenal wrestler who seemingly embraced the submission arts early, Lee displays a preternatural ability to find and take the back. Fueled by slick transitions and heavy hips, the 25-year old arguably crushes as much as he attempts chokes, dominantly closing off airways in a way that reminds me of a vintage B.J. Penn.
The oddsmakers and public seem to be slowly taking a side on this one, listing Lee -145 and Barboza +125 as of this writing.
Putting any Xtreme Couture-related biases aside, I do think that this line is about right. Barboza is still a top fighter whose abilities have not gone anywhere, making him a live dog by default.
The Brazilian’s fleet-of-foot movement and improved defense will make him difficult to pin down, and his counter punches will probably be as lively as his kicks. However, despite his upgrades, the same factor has traditionally foiled him throughout his career – and that’s pressure.
Lesser strikers have used pressure to stun Barboza standing, and – like we saw last December – pressure accompanied by wrestling can be a suffocating combination for the Brazilian. Although Lee won’t have the late, great Robert Follis in his corner, I suspect that he will put on a performance that would make his former coach proud. I believe that both men will survive each other’s threats early, but ultimately see Lee scoring a surgical second-round submission.
Official pick: Lee inside the distance
For more on UFC Fight Night 128, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
Photos: Best of Kevin Lee
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