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As part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s deal to get mixed martial arts legalized in New York in 2016, it promised the state a bunch of events over the next few years. However, outside of the big New York City-area events, the cards have generally been afterthoughts. Buffalo got UFC 210 out of the deal, but offerings from Albany and Utica were nothing about which to write home on paper and were not much better in practice.
By those standards, the UFC’s debut in Rochester actually appears solid. The main event is an interesting fight with crucial stakes for both men, there are some important women’s fights and Charles Oliveira is facing Nik Lentz yet again for reasons known only to those who booked their latest rematch. It is enough to push UFC Fight Night 152 just above the level of being non-essential, which means if this is the last of these upstate New York cards, at least the organization built to a bit of a crescendo.
Now to the preview for UFC Fight Night “Dos Anjos vs. Lee,” scheduled for Saturday at Blue Cross Arena:
WelterweightsRafael dos Anjos (28-11) vs. Kevin Lee (17-4)
ODDS: Dos Anjos (-115), Lee (-105)
Just a year ago, dos Anjos looked to be on the verge of joining the ranks of the UFC’s two-division champions, but now the former lightweight titleholder badly needs a win to stay relevant as a contender. After working his way up to lightweight champion and then stalling out a bit after losing the belt, dos Anjos decided to move to 170 pounds, a decision that immediately paid off. In just a shade under six months, dos Anjos broke down Tarec Saffiedine, Neil Magny and Robbie Lawler without much trouble to establish himself as a top fighter in the weight class. That earned dos Anjos an interim title fight against Colby Covington, which wound up in a loss that drudged up some bad memories. Dos Anjos is at his best when he can maintain pressure, so he has historically struggled against wrestlers who can control him, stall him and make him move backwards with pressure of their own. The Covington bout was another fight in that mold. Dos Anjos had his moments due to Covington’s porous defense, but every time the former lightweight champion decided to open up, Covington was there with some pressure and a takedown attempt. To his credit, dos Anjos has not cowered away from tough competition since that loss. Instead, the Brazilian turned right around and faced another one of the welterweight division’s best wrestlers in Kamaru Usman. However, that resulted in another setback and put dos Anjos in jeopardy of falling out of contention due to his willingness to take fights that others would not. Naturally, the UFC booked him against another fighter who will look to outwrestle him, as he takes on Kevin Lee -- a man testing the 170-pound waters for a fresh start of his own.
Lee was thrown to the wolves immediately in his UFC career, debuting against a surging Al Iaquinta, but “The Motown Phenom” showed enough in a loss that the promotion saw fit to bring him along slowly. Lee put in rounds and developed a game around his strong wrestling, but a flash knockout suffered at the hands of Leonardo Santos raised some concerns about his durability that still linger. However, rebounded well. Even with the loss, the UFC started to match Lee more aggressively, and he still managed to rattle off a five-fight winning streak capped by submission victories over Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa. Lee subsequently securing an interim title fight against Tony Ferguson still felt a bit unearned, but it quickly looked like another case in which he could bounce back from adversity better than ever. Lee looked solid in the loss and rebounded with a one-sided win over Edson Barboza to remind everyone why he was such an exciting prospect. However, for the first time since the Santos fight, Lee is looking to come back from a disappointing performance. The UFC oddly decided to rematch Lee with Iaquinta in December, and while it was a close decision defeat, “Raging Al” managed to stop a lot of the Xtreme Couture export’s pressure and make the surging prospect look uncomfortable. Lee is still just 26, so there is time to work things out, but getting a win here would do a ton towards proving that he can make it to a championship level.
For the third straight outing, dos Anjos faces a strong wrestler who will look to pressure him, and for the third straight outing, it is difficult to favor him in that type of matchup. Since it was Lee’s most disappointing performance in a while, his loss to Iaquinta feels like it is remembered as more one-sided than it was in reality. Even if Iaquinta managed to shut down Lee’s pressure at times, “The Motown Phenom” still executed some takedowns and controlled the fight for a decent chunk of time. Moreover, Iaquinta has more tools to scare off Lee than dos Anjos does, so it is easy to see this as another fight where the Brazilian has his moments but cannot keep himself from getting bulled against the fence or put on the mat. There are some concerns for Lee, enough of them, in fact, that this is clearly an easier challenge for dos Anjos than Covington or Usman represented. Lee’s durability is suspect, and even in his one-sided win against Barboza, the Michigan native was put on wobbly legs before successfully hunting for a takedown. There is some question as to how Lee’s wrestling translates up a level -- particularly since this does not appear to be an official full-time move to 170 pounds -- as the Max Holloway-Dustin Poirier rematch was a stark reminder of the difference between someone moving up in weight for one fight versus someone doing so permanently. Still, the style matchup favors Lee by a significant margin. The pick is Lee via decision.
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