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Analyzing the continued (and unfortunate) fall of UFC Vegas 76’s Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee is a man unafraid to irritate people. He’s filled to the brim with confidence and hot takes, both about his own potential and about the sport as a whole. Given his meteoric rise up the ranks, why not?

Back in 2014, Lee debuted on short notice at 21 years of age and nearly choked out the well-established Al Iaquinta in the very first round. He lost that debut, sure, but Lee proved his talent immediately afterward. Lee ripped through nine of his next 10 opponents, finishing very tough opposition like Magomed Mustafaev, Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa.

When Lee challenged Tony Ferguson at UFC 216 in Oct. 2017, he was just 25 years old. He lost to “El Cucuy” near Ferguson’s peak, but he also beat up Ferguson far more than most. The future still seemed extremely bright, and Lee had years to improve even further. A five-round mauling of Edson Barboza in his next effort seemed to guarantee his championship potential.

Then, it all went to crap.

Lee would lose four of his next five fights. More and more problems started to appear in his game. There seemed to be less of a connect between his kickboxing and wrestling, and his conditioning deteriorated considerably. In addition, Lee struggled to find a home for himself as he aged and grew, bouncing between Lightweight and Welterweight without consistent success in either. Add in multiple, extensive knee injuries, and the recipe for Lee’s downfall was complete.

Early this evening (Sat. July 1, 2023), Lee returned to the Octagon for the first time in two years opposite Rinat Fakhretdinov at UFC Vegas 76, which took place inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was not kindly matchmaking — Fakhretdinov is an absolute murderer and dark horse contender.

There was tension in the air as soon as the bout was booked. Lee — once seen as a sure-fire future champion — was the underdog on the undercard. Some were hopeful that Lee could turn back the clock, but Fakhretdinov immediately cracked him with a right hand and choked him unconscious (watch highlights).

Lee wore two knee sleeves to the cage.

At 30 years of age, Lee should be in his prime. Five years ago, most everyone expected Lee would have scored a title or at least contended again by now. Instead, his peak is a far-off memory, and the chances of him regaining those heights seem miniscule. The overwhelming athleticism is gone, and Lee doesn’t have the deep technical game to compensate.

It’s genuinely sad. So many fight fans have been turned off or annoyed by Lee’s various comments over the years, but nobody is celebrating his fall anymore. This isn’t an example of an overhyped prospect getting exposed. Lee was really great, and now he isn’t. There’s no clear path to rebound, either.

MMA is a cruel, cold game to play.

For complete UFC Vegas 76: “Strickland vs. Magomedov” results and play-by-play, click HERE.

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