In the middle of a worldwide crisis caused by the Coronavirus, the UFC stands firm on keeping its schedule going as long as possible, and even though most sporting events around the globe have been cancelled all points to UFC Brasilia actually taking place, with a explosive encounter between ranked lightweights Kevin “The Motown Phenom” Lee and Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira as the main event. This is one of the most anticipated fights in recent months in the UFC among hardcore followers and one that will certainly produce fireworks.
Since joining the UFC at very young age in 2014, Kevin Lee, now 27, was always a highly touted prospect in the lightweight division that eventually became a contender. After losing a very competitive decision in his debut against Al Iaquinta, Lee went on a 9-1 run with the promotion with the only setback coming at the hands of Leonardo Santos who caught him with a vicious counter. Lee then proceeded to get submitted by legendary fan favourite Tony Ferguson in a fight he was handily winning until he completely gassed, probably related to entering the matchup with staph infection. An absolute mauling of Edson Barboza was followed by another decision loss against Iaquinta in which Lee´s questionable gameplan arguably cost him what looked to be an easy victory. Kevin then tried his luck at welterweight against former lightweight king Rafael Dos Anjos but it was clear his frame does not adapt as well to the higher division and after that loss he inmediately came back to lightweight, causing a resounding upset over Gregor Gillespie via thundering high kick, destroying the man many pointed to as the biggest threat to reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Lee is a former wrestler with special athletic talents. He is an absolute monster physically at 155 pounds, and although his striking has always been improving, now under the expert eye of legendary trainer Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym, he is a grappler at core. He can put down anyone in the division if he chooses too, specially early in fights, and possesses on of the most crushing top games in the roster. He slices through opponents guards like they were butter and then fishes for the choke or applies vicious ground and pound. With the adequate development and gameplans, and fixing his apparently never ending weight cutting issues due to his size for the division, Kevin is undoubtedly a contender for the lightweight belt.
It seems Charles Oliveira has been in the UFC forever even though he is only 30 years of age. A ten year veteran with the promotion, he alternated wins and loses at featherweight, facing a who´s who of the division, among them such notable names as Cowboy Cerrone, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson. Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens or Anthony Pettis. After having numerous struggles with the scale himself, he finally has made the permament move to the lightweight division, going 7-1 since then with the only loss coming under the hellacious ground elbows of Paul Felder in a fight he was close to finishing himself a couple of times.
Oliveira is the submission wins record holder in the UFC´s history with thirteen submission finishes to his name. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practicioner at core, he is a high level black belt that actively hunts for submissions from every position and his long frame and long arms along with all his grappling talents make him a shark to deal with on the ground. Oliveira is an outstanding grappler and one of the best finishers the octagon has ever seen, there is not other way around it. His striking has been steadily improving throughout his UFC run and he offers now a very serviceable Muay Thai on the feet to go with his ground game. No stranger to taking down opposition himself, Oliveira is a brute from the clinch, his preferred situation from which to get takedowns from the body lock position or slice the opponent with elbows. Even though he has been acussed in the past of lacking heart and quitting when things do not go his way, he has been very solid an aggressive lately. Oliveira is an extremely dangerous fighter that can end a fight at any moment, it only takes one error for him to grab your neck, specially from front choke positions. Charles Oliveira can beat any lightweight on the planet on a given day.
How is this fight gonna play out? Both men are fast starters. Oliveira has historically slowed down in the later rounds of fights, whereas Lee has alternated performances where he gassed to absolute cardio displays like he showed against Edson Barboza. This fight, as every other UFC fight will start on the feet, and it is not very difficult to imagine the fight will stay there until Kevin Lee decides to take it down to the matt unless he makes an error that allows Do Bronx to get a dominant position on him. If that is the case Kevin Lee may find himself in trouble very fast, but I doubt we see that scenario playing out.
On the feet, we could argue Lee, the bigger and heavier fighter, is superior and probably the bigger puncher. Lee has shown a questionable chin in the past, but he has only been finished once by punches even though he has been wobbled on a number of occasions. Oliveira has a questionable chin himself. It is entirely possible Oliveira catches Lee with a big punch or times a counter on a takedown entry, but I would expect Lee to dictate how the striking goes with his insane reach and his boxing, consistently finding counters over the top, jabbing and mixing in his serviceable kicks to the body and head from both stances. However, I expect Lee to get his grappling going eventually, maybe very early, and I think he can consistently get takedown here be it double legging Oliveira or from the clinch where I think he can absolutely beast on the Brazilian from the bodylock position. Once on the ground, and even though Oliveira is dangerous from any position, I expect Lee to be able to pass his guard without major issues and go straight into mount, proceeding to unleash hell on the Brazilian or even finding his neck if he decides to offer his back to the fighter from Detroit. Kevin Lee´s passing game is second to none, his ability to get half guard and then mount from the opponent´s guard is simply outstanding, and Oliveira is not as savy from his back as he is from dominant positions.
At the moment of this writing, Lee sits as the slight favourite at (-145) while Charles Oliveira stands at (+135). Even though the Brazilian is an excellent, well rounded fighter, it is hard for me not to pick Lee to beat Oliveira here as he has more paths to victory including a very clear one with his vastly superior wrestling to get dominant positions from which to work towards a finish. The pick here is Kevin Lee to take down, mount and finish Oliveira by pounding his head into the canvas or finding a rear naked choke if the Brazilian is not willing to eat punishment and offers his neck to the Motown Phenom.
OFFICIAL PICK: Kevin Lee inside the distance