Kevin Lee wanted to display all aspects of his mixed martial arts talent against Edson Barboza at UFC Fight Night 128.
While “The Motown Phenom” largely did that, he almost paid dearly for it in the third round against his ultra-tough Brazilian foe. After Lee spent the first two frames dominating Barboza with takedowns and brutal ground-and-pound, he found himself in danger early in round three when the action remained on the feet. It was then that Barboza briefly seized momentum with a spinning heel kick to the temple that put Lee on wobbly legs. Lee went into desperation mode and eventually got his opponent to the mat, which helped him to survive the round.
“In that, I did take a good shot. That man is explosive, I’ll give it to him. But that goes along with showing a complete game,’ Lee said on Fox Sports1 “I showed that I can get hurt and keep pushing forward. I never took my eyes off of him. I ain’t going to lie, [my legs] was a little shaken up. That’s just part of the fight game. You’re gonna get hit with some shots. A true champion is going to keep pushing forward and push through that. And I felt like I was able to do that.”
From there, Lee regained his bearings and eventually put his foe away via doctor’s stoppage at the 2:18 mark of the fifth frame. Despite one harrowing moment, Lee showcased more than competent standup during exchanges with Barboza.
“Edson’s explosive, he’s dynamic, he’s one of the best athletes in the division. He’s definitely one of the strongest guys I’ve faced. So I just wanted to show the complete game,” Lee said. “I’m just as fast, just as explosive, just as strong. So I wanted to show a little bit of everything. And I felt like I did that. I wanted to get the time in, get the rounds in. I felt like I could have stopped him in the second, but I’ve got to get that experience out of the way because it’s on to bigger and better things.”
In his previous outing, Lee came up short in a bid for interim lightweight gold at UFC 216 this past October, as he battled a staph infection and lost to Tony Ferguson via third-round submission. After watching current lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov dismantle Barboza for three rounds at UFC 219, Lee vowed to put an even worse beating on the Brazilian striker than the Dagestani grappler did. By earning a finish, he could argue that he did exactly that. Regardless, he says he didn’t learn much from Nurmagomedov’s effort against a common foe.
“I ain’t really learn much from him. I just went out there and did what I was going to do. I feel like I’m a more complete wrestler, more complete grappler anyway. He just tried to bulldoze him,” Lee said. “But I wanted to show that I could stand up and strike with him, be a little more in and out – not just run at him like a truck.”
Lee entered Saturday’s bout with a heavy heart. Only a few months have passed since Robert Follis, Lee’s former coach at Xtreme Couture, committed suicide at age 48. When Lee was in his greatest danger against Barboza, he felt like Follis was still with him.
“I can still feel some of those things. It’s something I’m going to have to go back and sew up,” Lee said. “Not having Robert Follis with me this whole week has been weighing on me a little bit. It’s just another layer to my life, the evolution. It’s going to be something that I still address.
“Even when [Barboza] hurt me, I can still hear his voice. He was always like the calmest dude in the world. He commanded the room. Even when I was hurt, I was done, he still commanded me, so I just listened to him and kept moving and pushing forward.”