This was the kind of star-making performance that Kevin Lee has long sought.
“The Motown Phenom” mauled former Ring of Combat titleholder Edson Barboza across 20-plus minutes, kept his name on a short list of top-shelf Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweights and forced a fifth-round stoppage in the UFC Fight Night 128 main event on Saturday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Having suffered a horrendous cut above his right eye, Barboza bowed out 2:18 into Round 5.
Outside of a spinning heel kick that set Lee on skates in the third round, Barboza offered little in the way of meaningful offense. According to FightMetric figures, Lee outlanded the Brazilian by wide margins in terms of total strikes, 233-64, and significant strikes, 142-51. He secured four takedowns, executed 11 guard passes and battered Barboza with a sustained barrage of ground-and-pound that led to the finish. Lee was particularly dominant in the first, second and fourth rounds.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Barboza vs. Lee,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Kevin Lee vs. Dustin Poirier: His stock once again on the rise, Lee has won six of his last seven bouts and done so against increasingly difficult opposition. A submission defeat to Tony Ferguson at UFC 216 in October briefly slowed his ascent, but victories over Barboza, Efrain Escudero, Jake Matthews, Magomed Mustafaev, Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa have kept the Xtreme Couture representative in the thick of the 155-pound hunt. Poirier last appeared in the UFC on Fox 29 headliner on April 14, when he put away onetime World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje with fourth-round punches.
Frankie Edgar vs. Max Holloway-Brian Ortega winner: Edgar rebounded from his knockout loss to Ortega on March 3 and improved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with Cub Swanson with a unanimous decision in the co-headliner. The 15-minute rematch was contested entirely on the feet, where Edgar held a narrow statistical advantage in all three rounds. “The Answer” has compiled an 8-2 mark across his last 10 outings, losing only to Ortega and former featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Holloway will defend the undisputed 145-pound crown against Ortega at UFC 226 on July 7.
Aljamain Sterling vs. John Dodson: Something of a forgotten man in the bantamweight division, Sterling outdueled the previously unbeaten Brett Johns to a unanimous decision in their three-round encounter at 135 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27, as the Serra-Longo Fight Team standout began to distance himself from a 67-second knockout loss to Marlon Moraes in December. Sterling, 28, has put together a 7-3 record since joining the UFC roster in 2014. Dodson last competed at UFC 222, where “The Ultimate Fighter 14” winner eked out a split decision over former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Pedro Munhoz.
David Branch vs. Uriah Hall-Paulo Henrique Costa winner: Branch quieted his doubters in a middleweight showcase with Thiago Santos, as he disposed of the Brazilian with punches in the first round. Santos succumbed to blows 2:30 into Round 1, his run of four consecutive victories at an end. A former two-division titleholder in World Series of Fighting, Branch has won 12 of his past 13 bouts, a technical knockout loss to Luke Rockhold the only hiccup. Hall and Costa will square off at UFC 226 on July 7 in Las Vegas.
Justin Willis vs. Alexey Oleynik-Junior Albini winner: Willis has slowly but surely begun to climb the heavyweight ladder. The 30-year-old American Kickboxing Academy export extended his winning streak to seven fights and moved his UFC record to 3-0 with a unanimous decision over Chase Sherman on the main card. Willis assaulted Sherman with accurate power punches, kept fatigue at bay and earned favor on the scorecards, drawing 29-28 marks from all three cageside judges. Oleynik and Albini will lock horns at UFC 224 on May 12 in Rio de Janeiro.