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UFC Fight Night 128 card: Edson Barboza vs Kevin Lee full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Barboza vs Dariush Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight contenders Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee will clash TONIGHT (April 21, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 128 inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The No. 5-ranked Lightweight in the world, Barboza was nearing a title shot prior to a brutal loss in his last fight. As a result, Barboza is being overlooked a bit, as overall his performances in the last couple years have been very high-level and displayed his masterful kickboxing.

At the same time, it’s easy to see why people have such high expectations for Kevin Lee. The 25 year old is a remarkable athlete who just seems to get better every fight, and he really rose to the occasion to give Tony Ferguson hell in a losing performance last October.

It’s an intriguing Lightweight contest, so let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man.

Edson Barboza

Record: 19-5

Key Wins: Anthony Pettis (UFC 197), Gilbert Melendez (UFC on FOX 20), Beneil Dariush (UFC Fight Night 106), Bobby Green (UFC Fight Night 57), Paul Felder (UFC on FOX 16)

Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 219), Tony Ferguson (TUF 22 Finale), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 61)

Keys to Victory: Barboza is one of MMA’s best Muay Thai representatives. The Brazilian is a dynamic kicker, capable of quickly breaking foes down with brutal strikes to the leg and mid-section or suddenly ending the bout with a nasty high kick.

For Barboza, this fight is about weathering the early storm. Lee has some seriously powerful takedowns and does big damage on the mat, and his wrestling will generally be difficult to stop early in the fight. Lateral movement and rangy strikes can help, but odds are that Lee will manage to find at least one takedown in the first or second round.

If he takes Barboza’s back and chokes him, nothing else matters.

However, if Barboza can avoid getting pummeled or strangled, it doesn’t matter if he loses the first 10 minutes of the fight. Lee undeniably does slow down, and that fatigue will be accelerated each time Barboza lands to the leg or body. So long as Barboza is finished or brutalized early, he stands a great chance of rallying and taking over as the fight wears on.

Kevin Lee

Record: 16-3

Key Wins: Michael Chiesa (UFC Fight Night 112), Francisco Trinaldo (UFC Fight Night 106), Michele Prazeres (UFC Fight Night 60), Jake Matthews (TUF 23 Finale)

Key Losses: Tony Ferguson (UFC 216), Leonardo Santos (UFC 194), Al Iaquinta (UFC 169)

Keys to Victory: Lee rose pretty quickly through the Lightweight ranks, cutting his teeth against the middle of the division until a five-fight win streak that began in 2016 brought him into the rankings. A dominant wrestler with a brutal top game, Lee is a stellar athlete above all else.

Lee can definitely learn a lot from the Nurmagomedov fight. The Dagestani athlete’s combination of pressure and chain wrestling gave Barboza a ton of trouble, and Lee has similar tools available. He’s perhaps more physically dominant than “The Eagle,” and while Lee doesn’t have his peer’s chain wrestling ability, his habit of driving through even bad double legs will likely lead to the same result.

Once Lee is on top, the goal should be to hurt Barboza enough to give up his back. Barboza is active in using the fence to wall-walk and scrambling, something Nurmagomedov punished with heavy punches. If Lee can do the same and convince Barboza to try to force the stand up, there’s a fair chance he can fully take the back.

From that position, “The MoTown Phenom” tends to end fights quickly.

Bottom Line: It’s a classic striker vs. grappler battle with a lot on the line.

Barboza needs this win to remain a contender. He cannot afford to get out-wrestled twice in a row, not if he hopes to stay remotely near the title mix. A win doesn’t put him in a great position to contend — not much will so long as Nurmagomedov holds the crown — but anything can happen at 155 lbs., and a win keeps Barboza in good shape to jump on a sudden high-profile fight.

The stakes are rather high for Lee as well, who can climb into the top five with a victory here. Lee performed well opposite Ferguson, but it was a defeat, and he doesn’t want to go 0-2 opposite top five fighters. That’s a bad look for a man constantly calling out the champion and other elite fighter. Alternatively, winning helps legitimize Lee’s position as an elite Lightweight and sets him up to battle with all the men he’s been calling out.

At UFC Fight Night 128, Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee will meet in the main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?

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