While dos Anjos has already proven how competitive he can be at a higher weight class after moving up a division two years ago, this will be Lee’s first UFC fight at welterweight. Lee has long campaigned for a 165-pound-division, an idea that Dana White has all but dismissed, so if he has to settle for 170 then a win over dos Anjos will be pivotal to convincing everyone (including himself) that welterweight is the right place for him.
On the other side, dos Anjos will look to avoid a third straight loss, which would be the longest skid of his 14-and-a-half year career. He needs to defeat Lee to stay in the title mix at 170 pounds.
The originally scheduled co-main event between welterweights Vicente Luque and Neil Magny was spoiled when Magny announced that he failed a USADA test earlier this week, bumping Luque down the card and moving a middleweight bout between Antonio Carlos Junior and Ian Heinisch into the penultimate spot. Carlos Junior has emerged as a dark horse contender at 185 pounds, having won five straight fights including three by rear-naked choke, while Heinisch impressed in his UFC debut last November with a unanimous decision win over Cezar Ferreira.
In other main card action, former Invicta FC featherweight champions Megan Anderson and Felicia Spencer collide, Luque takes on short-notice replacement Derrick Krantz, lightweights Charles Oliveira and Nik Lentz meet in a trilogy bout, and lightweight submission specialist Davi Ramos takes on newcomer Austin Hubbard.
What: UFC Rochester
Where: Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
By now, the formula for defeating the welterweight version of Rafael dos Anjos is clear: Strong wrestling, relentless pressure, and keep that chin tucked in tonight. That’s essentially the approach that both Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman used to stifle “RDA” and the results were undeniably positive for them.
Can Kevin Lee execute the same strategy?
Lee was a big lightweight, but he doesn’t have the same height nor mass of Covington or Usman. He also hasn’t shown that he shares their endless stamina. However, one could argue that Lee’s cardio took a hit due to his draining cuts down to 155, so how his energy levels hold up as this one enters the later rounds will be an important factor to keep an eye on.
It is just so hard to keep dos Anjos down, even for someone like Lee who is a beast in top control. And a longer fight could favor dos Anjos given that he’s gone a hard 25 minutes in four of his last six fights (though he lost three of those encounters). In the event that Lee has to stand with dos Anjos, he’s shown too many defensive deficiencies in his striking to be trusted to win that battle.
Unless Lee can effectively wrestle dos Anjos against the cage and on the mat or maybe catch dos Anjos with something early, I see dos Anjos winning on points here.
Pick: Dos Anjos
Antonio Carlos Junior seems to have moved past the issues with consistency that plagued his UFC beginnings (knock on wood). That said, for a guy who has won five straight, the matchmakers aren’t doing him any favors by matching him up with Ian Heinisch, a relative unknown who quietly put together a 12-1 record competing primarily in the higher tiers of regional MMA.
In Heinisch’s last fight against Cezar Ferreira, he proved he could hang with a veteran by using his wrestling to keep the fight standing and gut out a win. He’ll need to employ a similar game plan against “Shoeface,” who isn’t as effective as Ferreira on the feet, but is far more deadly on the ground. Should Heinisch decide to mix in takedowns to keep Carlos Junior guessing, he’ll have to be extremely careful to avoid falling prey to one of Carlos Junior’s python-like chokes.
Short, controlled combinations on the feet will be key to Heinisch pulling off the upset here. If he lets Carlos Junior get a hold on him too easily, it will be a wrap for him. “Shoeface” is just too strong to mess around with when it comes to grappling.
I like Heinisch to outlast Carlos Junior in this one and pick up another tough decision.
Unbeaten in six pro bouts, Felicia Spencer could give Megan Anderson some unfortunate Holly Holm flashbacks. Spencer is nowhere near as accomplished a striker as Holm, but it’s entirely possible that she follows the example of “The Preacher’s Daughter” and uses a steady diet of takedowns to neutralize Anderson’s exciting offense. Anyone who has seen Spencer can tell you that she is an absolute bully of a featherweight. She’ll be looking to close the distance, tie Anderson up, and make this one ugly.
It’s frustrating that we really haven’t been able to see what Anderson can do inside the Octagon. Her bout with Holm saw her outworked by a more seasoned opponent and her bout with Cat Zingano ended prematurely when a kick from Anderson caused a freak eye injury. She was a wrecking ball in Invicta and there’s plenty of reason to believe that her ability to effectively use those rangy limbs of hers can still make her a champion in the UFC.
That run starts on Saturday, where Anderson’s superior striking will allow her to score from distance and piece Spencer up in close. She’ll find a finish in the first or second round.
Vicente Luque vs. Derrick Krantz
There are several physical and stylistic similarities between Vicente Luque and Derrick Krantz, which makes this a risky fight for Luque. Fortunately, Luque proved in his war with Bryan Barberena at UFC Phoenix that he’s fine wading into deep waters and he’s not just a frontrunner.
“D-Rock” has been doing damage in LFA for some time now and were it not for the fact that he’s taking this fight on less than a week’s notice, Luque is an ideal matchup for him from the perspective of sheer entertainment value. Krantz has won 21 fights by knockout or submission, Luque has not needed the scorecards in any of his eight UFC wins.
While it would be fun to pick Krantz to shock the world here, especially if he can lure Luque into a coin-toss slugfest, it doesn’t seem wise to pick him when he’s had almost zero time to prepare for Luque, who isn’t the type to overlook an opponent under any circumstances.
Uh... third verse same as the first?
Count me among the many wondering why this matchup is even happening. Not necessarily because it’s some gross mismatch, but because Charles Oliveira has so little to gain from beating Nik Lentz again. And he has a lot to lose, including a four-fight win streak that has the gifted grappler on the verge of finally becoming a legitimate contender.
Though Oliveira won their rematch back in May 2015 by third-round submission, it was no gimme fight. Lentz has seen it all in the cage and he’s always been difficult to put away. With nothing to lose, he’ll bring the fight to Oliveira from the opening bell and make life hell for “Do Bronx” in the early going.
Don’t expect Oliveira to wilt under the pressure. It’s only a matter of time until he finds an opening to take Lentz down or even pull guard so that he can work his unrivaled submission game. That constant threat will give Oliveira the edge for as long as this one lasts.
These two produced Fight of the Night performances in their previous two encounters. Repeating that again is a lot to ask, but it should be a fun one that ends with Oliveira extending his record for most UFC submission victories.
Davi Ramos has yet to be truly tested inside the Octagon since dropping to lightweight. He’ll have his hands full with the debuting Austin Hubbard. How Ramos fares here will go a long way towards helping the matchmakers figure out whether he’s ready for a step up in competition.
Hubbard brings solid boxing to the table. He’ll punish Ramos’s body if “The Tasmanian Devil” is sloppy with his clinch work or if he lets Hubbard cut off the cage. Ramos isn’t afraid to stand and bang himself, but he’ll be far more inclined to turn this into a grappling bout. If he takes Hubbard down, he can wear down the Elevation Fight Team product known for having excellent cardio.
As mentioned, this is a test for Ramos, who has bulldozed his last two opponents. I don’t see that happening here, though I do see him getting the win either via late submission or decision.