Lee taking risk by fighting in Brazil

By Lou Finocchiaro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

Kevin Lee
© Imagn

This week the UFC travels to Brazil for Fight Night Brasilia, where raucous fans are offered several cards yearly as the organization maintains its popularity by featuring numerous local and regional fighters. Brazilian fans reciprocate by crowding arenas to support their countrymen with ferocity, fervor and, often, foul language and fisticuffs.

Fight fans were treated to a diverse display of results last week at UFC 248. We saw KOs, TKOs, submissions, split decisions and a main event that most fans hardly consider a fight. One important aspect was that we delivered on the Israel Adesanya/Zhang Weili parlay + 1.06. Insight the Octagon 2020 results stand 6-0 + 7.42u to date.

Kevin Lee -145 vs. Charles Oliveira + 125, main event, lightweight (155 pounds)

Eighth-ranked American Kevin Lee will match up against 13th-ranked Brazilian Charles Oliveira in a fight that will propel the victor upward in a deeply talented division. This is a critical fight for both men’s championship aspirations and looks to be closely contested.

Oliveira, 30, is a Jiu-Jitsu savant with refined Muay Thai striking skill. Since a loss to Paul Felder in 2017, Oliveira has won six straight bouts. Oliveira, who holds the UFC record with 11 submission wins, is masterful on the mat. He averages 2.78 submission attempts per 15 minutes, the highest rate in the UFC. In his last six fights, Oliveira has averaged 4.46 significant strikes per minute while absorbing only 2.99. He has finished his last two opponents via TKO and KO, evidence that his striking has improved. Oliveira is improving, he’s riding tremendous momentum and he’s fighting in Brazil.

The higher-ranked Lee accepted the challenge to travel to Brazil, where he won in 2017, to compete against a lower-ranked and highly dangerous Oliveira. This seems a display of supreme confidence and quite a risky undertaking for Lee.

Since 2017, when he was submitted by Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title, Lee has gone 2-2. He has focused on refining his strike offense and defense to develop a more diverse attack after being pieced up by Al Iaquinta three fights back. Lee’s striking development seems to be coming along nicely based on the devastating, explosive head kick with which he leveled Gregor Gillespie in his last fight.

Lee, 27, will be the younger man and will hold a 3-inch reach advantage. He has the edge in athleticism, power and explosion. Lee realizes 75% significant-strike success when on the floor in top position, meaning that when he’s wrestling, he’s at his best.

Lee’s last couple of camps have been in Montreal with Firas Zahabi at Georges St Pierre’s Tristar, a notoriously successful gym where Lee is surely working on his ability to combat and conquer Oliveira over five long rounds.

The critical consideration from a betting perspective is Lee’s weight, as he does have a history of missing. In fact, after that lackluster performance against Iaquinta, Lee decided to quit depleting himself by dropping to the 155-pound weight limit and instead compete as a welterweight at 170 pounds. His result was poor, as Lee tired and was KOd by undersized welterweight Rafael dos Anjos. That’s when Lee joined up with Tristar and returned to the lightweight division, subsequently scoring that dynamic KO of Gillespie.

Weight is a big factor in this fight.

Travel greatly affects a fighter’s ability to cut aggressive weight. It’s terribly distracting to have to focus attention in the last days before a fight on cutting massive amounts of weight. This could be a problem for Lee. 

As happened when Deiveson Figueiredo missed weight against Joseph Benavidez a few weeks ago — by missing weight Figueiredo was more able to defend takedown attempts — Lee could well disregard making weight in exchange for the same meager penalty Figueiredo incurred, which was the inability to win the division title. So he could enter the octagon with a tremendous advantage, for a larger Lee would be more able to take down an opponent as well as manage top position once on the mat.

This fight opened Oliveira -140 vs. Lee + 100. The line has now flipped.

Travel to Brazil and a potentially aggressive weight cut coupled with a history of cardio problems late in fights forces me to regard Lee as an underdog. The opening line is an accurate depiction of this fight, provided each man makes weight, which is key to how I handicap this event.

I am targeting Oliveira + 125 for a wager, and his value is growing, so there is no hurry to move now. Let’s hope pricing continues to grow on the Brazilian until weigh-ins are completed, as I must hold off on wagering until I see that Lee made weight and renders this fight fair. The second Lee steps off that scale and makes weight early Friday morning, I’ll confirm an Oliveira release — provided he is still the underdog, which seems likely.


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