Ahead of his welterweight division return this weekend at UFC Vegas 35, former interim lightweight championship challenger, Kevin Lee has claimed that he is already a top-five contender in the 170lbs division — and that against short-notice opponent, Daniel Rodriguez will mark the beginning of a title run for him.
Originally booked to make his return to the welterweight division in a duo of failed pairings with the undefeated Roufusport grappling ace, Sean Brady, Michigan native, Lee, who previously claimed that fellow statesman, Mike Perry rejected a pairing with him, now meets Californian striker, Rodriguez in a main card bout this weekend at the UFC Apex facility.
The matchup will come as Lee’s first since a pair of ACL tears and subsequent surgical procedures on both knees, as well as a UFC Fight Night Brasilia main event tilt against current undisputed lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira back in March of last year, where he suffered a third round guillotine loss to the Sao Paulo submission specialist.
Under the tutelage of the renowned, Firas Zahabi at Tristar MMA in Canada, Lee, who debuted with the gym in a massive, high-kick stoppage over Gregor Gillespie at UFC 244 back in November 2019, explained how he didn’t want a championship-caliber fighter in his subsequent bout after his win over Gillespie. However, the promotion elected to pair him with Oliveira regardless.
“After I fought and beat (Gregor) Gillespie, I told (UFC colour commentator), Joe Rogan, ‘I don’t want a championship fight yet’ and then two months later I end up fighting the (current) champion (Charles Oliveira) and kind of rushing myself,” Lee said during an appearance on The MMA Hour.
However, when paired with Rodriguez, Lee insists his run at welterweight gold begins this weekend.
“I feel like now is the right time,” Lee continued. “I never really put together a true championship run — this is going to be the start of that. This is going to be the start of a real championship run.“
A former interim title chaser, 28-year-old Grand Rapids native, Lee turned in a five-fight undefeated streak on route to a UFC 16 interim title clash with Tony Ferguson, including a unanimous decision win over Efrain Escudero, as well as stoppage successes against Jake Matthews, Magmoed Mustafaev, Francisco Trinaldo, as well as Michael Chiesa.
In his sole welterweight outing, however, Lee headlined a May 2019 UFC Fight Night Rochester event against former lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos — suffering an eventual fourth round arm-triangle loss.
UFC Vegas 35 takes place on August 28 from the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada — with a featherweight rematch between Edson Barboza and Giga Chikadze slated to take main event honors.
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