The UFC welterweight division is overloaded with contenders. UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is set to fight former interim champ Colby Covington later this year, but once those two settle their disagreement there is no shortage of other fighters who want to jump into the No. 1 contender spot.
In late June, former champions Tyron Woodley and Robbie Lawler meet in a rematch in the main event of UFC Minneapolis. In July, Ben Askren fights Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239. In late August, former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis takes on Nate Diaz in the closest thing we have to a non-title superfight at 170lbs. Then there’s former title contenders Darren Till, Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia who want to get another crack at the belt, not to mention fresh contenders in Santiago Ponzinibbio, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, Vicente Luque and Leon Edwards waiting for their own turn.
It’s safe to say the UFC’s 170-pound division is stacked. Keep winning, and you stay relevant. But with a loss, you risk finding yourself irrelevant in a division that has so many quality fighters on win streaks vying for a shot at the belt.
That’s the situation that Kevin Lee and Rafael dos Anjos find themselves in this weekend in the main event of UFC Fight Night 152, which takes place Saturday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York. It might not seem like it, but this is actually a must-win fight if either man wants to stay relevant as a title contender in the UFC’s most stacked division.
For Lee, he’s moving up to welterweight after the weight cut to make 155lbs made it impossible for him to continue as a lightweight. After losses to Al Iaquinta and Tony Ferguson in two of his last three fights at lightweight, he decided to make the move to welterweight. Considering Lee is just 26, he has plenty of time to make a fresh run for the welterweight belt. With a win over RDA, he’ll take his spot in the top-10. But if Lee loses, he immediately finds himself in a spot where he’ll be in a must-win fight his next time out. So safe to say beating RDA is super important for Lee’s title aspirations at 170lbs.
The same goes for RDA. After starting off his welterweight run with three wins in a row, including a dominant showing against Lawler in a fight that showed he could compete with the best welterweights in the world, he’s since lost back-to-back fights to Covington and Usman. There’s no shame in losing to those two, but at this point RDA is on a two-fight losing skid in a stacked division. He can’t risk losing three straight fights if he plans on making another run for the welterweight title. Thus, this fight against Lee is about as big of a fight as RDA has had in his career. It’s an absolute must-win if he wants to remain a welterweight title contender at age 34.
This is a very difficult fight to call, and the betting lines actually see the fight as essentially a coin flip. Both Lee and RDA are quality fighters coming off of a loss who are looking to start a new win streak and remain relevant as a title contender in the stacked UFC welterweight division. It might not seem like a must-win fight for either man considering their pedigrees in the sport, but it is. When you have so many other contenders vying for the belt, this makes it a must-win fight for both Lee and RDA at UFC Rochester. And with so much riding on a win, you can expect nothing less than both men leaving everything they have inside the cage.