Kevin Lee is ready for another shot at UFC gold.
Following a disappointing loss in his last bout for the interim lightweight title, Lee stormed back with a lopsided performance over Edson Barboza minus one scare in the third round, as he earned a fifth-round TKO by doctor’s stoppage.
It was that defeat to Tony Ferguson last October that left Lee feeling like he had something to prove on Saturday night and he took out his frustrations on Barboza almost immediately after the fight got underway.
Lee, a former collegiate wrestler at Grand Valley State University, showed his grappling skills, as he took Barboza down at will throughout the first two rounds and put an absolute beating on the Brazilian.
Time and time again, Lee put Barboza on the mat, passed his guard, and then did his best to treat his opponent like a punching bag, as he hammered away with punches and elbows. There were more than a few moments that looked like the referee might stop the fight, as Barboza’s head started to swell and bruise from the ridiculous amount of damage he was taking.
— UFC (@ufc) April 22, 2018
Still, Barboza persevered and somehow came out refreshed in the third round when he uncorked a spinning wheel kick that connected flush on the side of Lee’s head.
Immediately after getting hit, Lee was on wobbly legs as he struggled to remain standing, but he still had enough sense about him to try and wrestle Barboza back to the ground. Instead of standing back up, Barboza went for an ill-fated submission before being taken back down to the mat and his brief offensive flurry came to an end.
How did Kevin Lee survive this?? pic.twitter.com/42XupkDfr3
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) April 22, 2018
“I showed I can do it all. I can push through adversity. That wheel kick hurt,” Lee said about that frightening moment in the third round.
The fighters did eventually work their way back to the feet before the third round came to a close and it was Lee who actually started landing with some straight punches and a stiff jab that snapped Barboza’s head back.
As the fourth round got underway, Lee had shaken loose the cobwebs from that near knockout as he took Barboza back to the ground and continued to batter him with strikes. Lee was relentless with his pressure game on top as Barboza could only hold on and try to survive until the final round.
Lee didn’t slow down with his outpouring of offense with more strikes landed in the fifth and final round, including one shot that split open Barboza’s eyelid, as blood came pouring down his face. That forced the referee to pause the action as the doctors were brought in to check on Barboza.
The damage done was just too great and the doctors called a stop to the contest at 2:18 into the fifth round. Lee was declared the winner by TKO.
All told, Lee landed 142 significant strikes over four-plus rounds — 96 of those were on the ground with four takedowns and 11 guard passes on the mat. Lee was well ahead on the judges’ scorecards as well before getting the fifth-round finish.
Is it Khabib Time for Kevin Lee?
“I wanted to go five rounds, show my complete game,” Lee said after his win. “I can do it all. I feel I’m the most complete fighter in this division. I can stand with the toughest strikers in the world. Edson Barboza 100-percent is the best striker in this division and I wanted to go out there and show it.”
With the win, Lee will now move into the top five rankings at 155 pounds, but he’s not looking at any other fighter in front of him except for the guy with the gold belt wrapped around his waist.
“The folks know what time it is. It’s Khabib time, baby,” Lee said.
— UFC (@ufc) April 22, 2018
Lee has actually been asking for a fight against new lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the better part of a year, although it’s doubtful he’ll get his wish in his next fight. That said, Lee certainly put himself into position for a No. 1 contender’s bout in his next fight, as he looked incredibly impressive with his dominant win over Barboza on Saturday night.