The UFC lightweight division is one of the most stacked, exciting weight classes in the world’s top MMA promotion, and after two straight weeks of cards being headlined by high-level fights at 155lbs, this weekend’s card at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey will keep that trend rolling. After Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Al Iaquinta at UFC 223 to win the UFC lightweight title and Dustin Poirier defeated Justin Gaethje at UFC on FOX 29 via TKO in an amazing fight, this weekend at UFC Fight Night 128 top contenders Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee square off in what should be another tremendous fight in the UFC lightweight division.
Both Barboza and Lee are ranked in the top-10 of the UFC lightweight division and right now both guys are still considered elite lightweights, but both men also have a problem. Each fighter is coming off of a loss, and neither guy wants to suffer a second straight defeat. Even though Barboza’s loss came against the champ Nurmagomedov and Lee’s came against the former interim champ Ferguson, in a lightweight division that is constantly seeing new fighters emerge as top contenders two straight losses can be detrimental to one’s career. That’s why the main event this weekend at UFC Fight Night 128 is such a crucial fight for both Barboza and Lee’s careers, and why it’s imperative each man get a win to remain relevant at 155lbs.
In the case of Barboza, he’s always been one of the most exciting fighters at 155lbs, someone who has shown flashes of brilliance at times with beautiful knockout wins over the likes of Terry Etim and Beneil Dariush. But he’s also been a fighter who has a reputation of not being able to win the big one. It’s hard to fault Barboza too much for losing to Nurmagomedov, but he’s also lost to Ferguson, Donald Cerrone and Michael Johnson in fights where he had the chance to really make a name for himself in the division and claim his stake to a title shot. And who can forget his shocking upset TKO loss to Jamie Varner earlier in his UFC career back when everyone thought Barboza was unstoppable. He’s a great fighter, and his three-fight win streak against Dariush, Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez before he fought Nurmagomedov showed just how good he is, but if he really wants to prove he’s a truly elite fighter he needs to beat a top-five guy, and as of this point he just hasn’t been able to show the MMA world he has what it takes to win the big one. At 32, he’s likely at the tail-end of his prime, so if he’s going to make a run for the belt it has to be now.
The same can be said for Lee. After losing against Iaquinta in his UFC debut, Lee went on a nice four-fight run and many thought he was going to be the future lightweight champion. But a shocking upset loss to Leonardo Santos (similar to Barboza’s loss to Varner) was a setback for him, and the UFC was forced to rebuild his stock by giving him more favorable matchups. Lee then rattled off five straight wins and beat Michael Chiesa to enter the lightweight division’s top-10, but once again he was set back when he was tapped out by Ferguson in his bid to become the interim lightweight champ. The good news for Lee is that he’s only 25 still, so he still has time to improve. But a second straight loss when there’s tons of other young up-and-comers on his heels in the rankings, not to mention veterans hanging around, means Lee really needs a win here over Barboza to remain a top guy at 155lbs.
Both Barboza and Lee are great fighters but in a lightweight division that is stacked and sees new prospects emerging all the time, both of these fighters need a win this weekend in order to show the MMA world and the UFC brass they each have what it takes to be a champion in this sport. So far, both guys have failed when they’ve stepped up in competition, but both guys have the skillsets to try once again. Only one man can win and this weekend we will find out who sinks and who swims, but with so much pressure on each guy to perform, fans should expect a tremendous fight and yet another main event showcase for the UFC’s stacked lightweight division.
Do you favor Edson Barboza or Kevin Lee at UFC Atlantic City?