The UFC travels to Brazil for Fight Night Brasilia, where raucous fans usually fill the stands, but will be missing this time due to coronavirus.
Eighth-ranked American Kevin Lee will match up against 13th-ranked Brazilian Charles Oliveira in a fight that will propel the victor upward in a deep, talented division. This is a critical fight for both men’s championship aspirations and looks to be closely contested.
Oliveira, 30, is a jiujitsu savant with refined Muay Thai striking skill. Since a loss to Paul Felder in 2017, Oliveira has won six straight bouts. Oliveira, who holds the UFC record with 11 submission wins, is masterful on the mat. He averages 2.78 submission attempts per 15 minutes, the highest rate in the UFC.
In his past six fights, Oliveira has averaged 4.46 significant strikes per minute while absorbing only 2.99. He has finished his past two opponents via TKO and KO, evidence that his striking has improved. Oliveira is improving, he is riding tremendous momentum and he is fighting in Brazil (though without the aid of his supporters).
The higher-ranked Lee accepted the challenge to travel to Brazil, where he won in 2017, to compete against the dangerous Oliveira. This seems a display of supreme confidence and quite a risky undertaking for Lee.
Since 2017, when he was submitted by Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title, Lee has gone 2-2. He has focused on refining his strike offense and defense to develop a more diverse attack after being pieced up by Al Iaquinta three fights back. Lee’s striking development seems to be coming along nicely based on the devastating, explosive head kick with which he leveled Gregor Gillespie in his last fight.
Lee, 27, is the younger man and will hold a 3-inch reach advantage. He has the edge in athleticism, power and explosion. Lee realizes 75 percent significant-strike success when on the floor in top position, mean weight is a big factor in this fight. Travel greatly affects a fighter’s ability to cut aggressive weight. It is terribly distracting to have to focus on that in the last days before a fight. This could be a problem for Lee.
The weigh-ins have transpired and, as expected, Lee missed weight, coming in at 158.5 pounds. The miss will cost him 20 percent of his purse along with the mental anguish of unsuccessfully striving to make the 155-pound limit instead of using that precious time rehydrating and preparing for battle.
Oliveira was one of the early fighters to make weight and has been replenishing himself in preparation for the main event throughout Lee’s hours of struggle and distraction.
While I see this weight miss as unfair and unethical on Lee’s behalf, I do believe Oliveira (who had the ability not to take the fight) is fully prepared for a long, grueling battle, one where the longer this fight goes, the bigger advantage Oliveira will have.
The play: Oliveira, +125.