Two high-profile matchups have been announced for upcoming fight cards, and my initial thoughts on both are below.
Kevin Lee vs. Rafael dos Anjos, UFC Fight Night 151
Kevin Lee is done with lightweight as he’ll move up to welterweight and take on former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of UFC Fight Night 151. The event is set for May 18 at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York.
Lee (17-4) is 10-4 in the UFC with all of his previous bouts taking place at lightweight. After losing a decision to Al Iaquinta in his last bout, Lee hinted that he would be moving up a weight class as at age 26 he’s grown out of his lightweight frame. Though he won’t have the size advantage he did down at 155lbs, with his quality wrestling skills and improved striking Lee should still be a solid contender at 170lbs, an the UFC is throwing him into the fire in his divisional debut against a former title challenger in dos Anjos.
Dos Anjos (28-11) is 17-9 in the UFC and has proven to be both an elite lightweight and welterweight. However, at age 34, he’s finally showing signs of a decline with consecutive decision losses to Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. Losing to those fighters on paper isn’t a huge deal, but the Usman fight was a blowout and it’s possible all the damage has really taken it’s toll on him now. Still, I’d give RDA a good chance to beat Lee in this fight. With Lee’s popularity and youth advantage I expect him to be set as a decently-sized favorite, making RDA an intriguing dog play if that’s indeed the case.
Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Blachowicz, UFC 239
The first bout added to UFC 239 is a good one, as former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold will move up to light heavyweight to take on Jan Blachowicz. The card takes place July 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto broke news of the bout.
Rockhold (16-4) is 6-3 overall in the UFC, with all of his previous bouts coming at middleweight. He has not competed since a KO loss to Yoel Romero at UFC 221 in February 2018, and his last victory was a TKO win over David Branch in September 2017. Despite the long layoff, Rockhold is still a very intriguing addition to the UFC light heavyweight division. It wasn’t that long ago when Rockhold was the best middleweight on the planet when he won five straight fights by finish in the UFC over Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida, Costa Philippou and Tim Boetsch. His shocking KO loss to Bisping in the pair’s rematch in June 2016 will go down as one of the sport’s greatest all-time upsets and Rockhold has really struggled since then. However, the thought process is that his chin should be sturdier moving up a weight class, though that remains to be seen.
Blachowicz (23-8) is 6-5 in the UFC and and was recently knocked out by Thiago Santos in a potential light heavyweight title eliminator. Prior to that, Blachowicz had won four straight fights by stoppage and was looking like a title contender. The loss to Santos shows his true place in the division, as a high-end gatekeeper who is not quite ready to fight for the belt. That’s why this is good matchmaking by the UFC. Blachowicz is highly ranked yet beatable, so there’s a good chance Rockhold beats him and takes his spot in the top-five, making him an instant contender for UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones if that happens. Look for Rockhold to be a solid favorite heading into this bout.