UFC Fight Night 128 marked a contest between two lightweight contenders looking to bounce back: Edson Barboza attempting to erase the memory of dropping a lopsided unanimous decision to Khabib Nurmagomedov in December and Kevin Lee searching to validate the hype following a submission loss to Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title in October. Finally, when the two were locked in the cage in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Lee answered all the questions critics had concerning his status as a contender and cemented himself as a top lightweight who may be destined for stardom.
The gameplan was simple for Lee; get within range and land takedowns early and often and look to beat Barboza up on the mat, where he and his team believed he was vastly superior to his Brazilian foe. Lee was successful getting takedowns throughout the contest and within 40 seconds into the opening frame, he had Barboza on his back where he systematically broke the kickboxer down.
The lone shining moment for Barboza came early in the third round, where he landed his signature spinning heel kick, bouncing it off of Lee’s noggin, turning his legs to rubber. Barboza looked to pounce on his opponent, but Lee managed to compose himself, hit another takedown, and return to the beatdown of his opponent. The stoppage came mid-fifth round when the cageside doctor deemed the Brazilian unfit to continue, bloodied, beaten and eyes nearly swollen shut. Post-fight, Lee called for a title shot against newly-crowned champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Hometown Hero Bounces Back
Frankie Edgar was going into his rematch with Cub Swanson just over a month removed from the first TKO loss against fellow featherweight contender Brian Ortega. Many had questions regarding Edgar’s choice in returning so soon, but he silenced all the critics, taking home a dominant unanimous decision victory in a vintage performance that proved “The Answer” isn’t going anywhere.
After the fight, Edgar reveled in the cheers of his home crowd, seemingly relieved to get the first stoppage loss of his career in the rear-view mirror. While talking to Paul Felder in his Octagon interview, he stated he’s willing to take on all comers but his ideal situation is facing the winner of Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega.
Main Card Stand-Outs
Justin Willis extended his win-streak to three, taking home a dominant unanimous decision victory over Chase Sherman. Willis saw success early and often with his counter striking, and was content to let Sherman’s aggression play to his strengths where he was able to utilize an obvious speed advantage and pick apart his opponent on the feet.
David Branch shocked fans by taking out Thiago Santos in the first round with punches. The former two-division World Series of Fighting champion launched a monstrous overhand right at the chin of his opponent, sending him crashing to the canvas. Branch followed the big punch with four to five grounded strikes before referee Gary Copeland had seen enough, giving Branch his first finish since returning to the UFC.
Dan Hooker earned his third finish in a row since moving up to the lightweight division, bouncing a devastating knee directly off the chin of Jim Miller, knocking him out instantly. It was evident early on that Hooker was the bigger man, towering over Miller as he stalked him around the Octagon. The finish came early as Miller lunged in with a lazy right hook. Hooker made him pay for it in the form of a counter right hand followed by the crushing knee that put Miller’s lights out. The fight marked Miller’s fourth loss in a row.