Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight rivals Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee will settle their bad blood (maybe) TONIGHT (Dec. 15, 2018) at UFC on FOX 31 inside Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Iaquinta and Lee first met inside the Octagon nearly five years ago in the beginning of 2014. Iaquinta was a solid prospect with a solid run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and a couple UFC wins behind him, whereas Lee was a 21-year-old prospect with immense physical talent. Interestingly, the narrative looking back was the Lee was too young and inexperienced, but Iaquinta actually only had three more professional fights than “The MoTown Phenom.”
Either way, their careers have gone differently since. Iaquinta won most of his fights and somehow ended up both taking two years off and receiving a title shot. Lee, meanwhile, stayed very active, won a bunch of fights to prove himself an elite Lightweight, but also came up short in a title shot.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory since.
Key Wins: Jorge Masvidal (UFC Fight Night 63), Ross Pearson (UFC Fight Night 55), Joe Lauzon (UFC 183), Piotr Hallmann (UFC Fight Night 30)
Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 223), Michael Chiesa (TUF 15 Finale), Mitch Clarke (UFC 173)
Keys to Victory: Iaquinta is one of his division’s best bruisers. Utilizing his wrestling in reverse to keep the fight upright, Iaquinta likes to work his way into the pocket and batter his opponent with right hands.
In the first fight, Lee nearly strangled Iaquinta with a rear naked choke in the second round, and Lee has developed a far nastier top game since then. Plus, with Lee’s ridiculous combination of reach and physical strength, his early takedowns are going to be largely impossible to stop.
In short, Iaquinta is almost certainly going to be put on his back and put in serious danger early. The key to victory, then, is outlasting the period of time where Lee is tremendously dangerous. In the first couple rounds, Iaquinta’s focus should be on landing when he is standing, making Lee spend as much energy as possible for his takedowns and top control, and avoiding any positions where Lee can really tee off or threaten the choke.
If Iaquinta can make it later into the fight without being seriously battered or finished, we’ll have a real fight on our hands. Once Lee’s initial barrage has slowed, Iaquinta is a strong defensive wrestler, and he has more than enough power in his right to shut off the lights.\
Key Wins: Edson Barboza (UFC Fight Night 128), Michael Chiesa (UFC Fight Night 112), Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 106), Michele Prazeres (UFC Fight Night 60)
Key Losses: Tony Ferguson (UFC 216), Leonardo Santos (UFC 194), Al Iaquinta (UFC 169)
Keys to Victory: Lee is a special athlete. He’s one of the highest-ranking athletes on the ape index scale — which is not a racist term I just made up, but rather a measure of an athlete’s wingspan compared to height. Reach is one of the most important factors in combat sports, so Lee’s build of 5-foot-9-inches with a 77 inch reach is pretty extraordinary when considering his physical strength as well.
We may not think of Kevin Lee as a fighter who uses his length tremendously well — like Jon Jones, for example, who also ranks very highly on that scale — but he actually does. His arms are so long that his double leg along the fence is nearly impossible to stop, and his strikes from top position are extra brutal as a result of his length.
As with his last fight, I’d like to see Lee pressure forward from Southpaw and slam Iaquinta with some hard left kicks, particularly if Iaquinta again adapts that low, anti-wrestling stance he tried to play against Nurmagomedov. Either way, kicks from Southpaw will hurt badly and help herd “Raging Al” to the fence, where he’ll be quite vulnerable to Lee’s takedowns and ensuing violence.
Bottom Line: Lightweight is still log-jammed, but that does buy time for fighters like Lee and Iaquinta to build their case.
As I wrote about in his breakdown, we really have no idea where Iaquinta stands right now. He’s without any significant wins in recent years, but he also did challenge for the title a few months ago. In short, Iaquinta could prove himself a serious contender with a win over the surging Lee, but he could also find himself sliding out of the rankings with a second loss to an elite fighter and no relevant wins to keep him in place.
It’s a major fight for Lee as well, who is continually arguing his case as a title-worthy Lightweight. With the division seemingly stuck in place, the position for second in line to Tony Ferguson is up for grabs. Poirier should have that spot on lock, but if enough time goes by without a defended title, a match up between Lee and “The Diamond” may just materialize.
That hypothetical is very possible, but only if Lee wins tonight.
At UFC on FOX 31, Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee will rematch in the main event. Which man will have his hand raised?