Rafael dos Anjos will welcome the former UFC interim-lightweight title challenger Kevin Lee to 170lbs in the UFC Rochester main-event.
And in many ways, it’s a move that has been in the pipeline for quite some time now.
Lee, whose progress at lightweight has been stunted somewhat of late faced harsh setbacks to top contenders Tony Ferguson and most recently Al Iaquinta, a pair of defeats that no doubt made him question his standing in the division – at least in the short-term.
Some well-documented issues with his cut down to the lightweight limit seemed to spell the end of his time in the division but even now, Lee insists that his work is far from through there.
With a welterweight welcome against the former 155lb champion Rafael dos Anjos set for UFC Rochester this weekend, we’ll soon learn a lot about this young man’s future.
And that’s what a lot of people forget about Kevin Lee.
At 26, he remains a very promising prospect and he certainly falls within that bracket of fighters who cut well be holding themselves back due to a strenuous weight-cut.
Rafael dos Anjos serves as both a legitimate test of The Motown Phenom’s abilities at 170lbs as well as a gateway to a top contender fight in what is one of the promotion’s most stacked divisions.
Dos Anjos surprised quite a few people with the ease of his transition up to welterweight upon losing his lightweight strap and the fight that followed it.
A stockier fighter than the rangier Lee, he was able to modify his style sufficiently to become one of the best fighters in the division – beating Tarec Saffiedine, Neil Magny, and the former champ Robbie Lawler on his way to back-to-back defeats to the former-interim title holder Colby Covington and now-reigning champion Kamaru Usman.
Where the RDA who fought at lightweight could utilize his power to supplement the pressure, welterweight dos Anjos’ just doesn’t have the snap in those shots to deter in the manner that he could before.
But make no mistake, the manner in which he has adapted his game has allowed him to remain very competitive in his new home. However, in my view, the problems that have stunted him of late will be very much on display against Kevin Lee.
Both Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington were able to bully the Brazilian with their endurance, strength, and overall wrestling attack.
Size was certainly a factor in those fights but each man’s status as a wrestler was the difference.
Lee is a phenomenal athlete and if history is any indicator, we’ll see his physical attributes embellished by his decision to step up in weight.
Not undersized for the division by any stretch, as one of the largest lightweights on the roster, the move to 170lbs should prove to be the correct one for his future.
I can see Lee’s incredibly long 77″ reach being enough to keep the momentum on his side on the feet and his wrestling as enough to control the direction of this matchup, where needed.
Dos Anjos is looking set to have a frustrating night with this one and unless he can time the perfect shot to test his opponent’s chin – which will be very tough given the range and ever-improving striking of Lee – I just don’t see how he gets it done here.
I can’t imagine that a finish will happen for either man but if I had to guess, I’d say that Lee takes home a very comfortable decision to announce himself on the welterweight scene.
Prediction: Kevin Lee by unanimous decision
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena