If you set a 10-minute limit on your MMA main event, you would be forgiven if you had concluded in the last year that Kevin Lee was one of the best fighters in the world. For about two turns – sometimes just a shade less – Lee is a rolling asteroid. He throws heat, he runs to the supersonic limits, he threatens to vaporize everything in his path. It's an intense power, from bell to bell. Obviously, this is a man who puts all his energy into the quest for victory. As a fan, you can not ask for more.
But suddenly, as he reaches the opposition at the highest level, his results no longer correspond to his efforts. Because Lee, surprising that he's on two rounds, has suddenly lost three of his last four fights. Rafael dos Anjos is the last surviving fighter to the bombing, finally stopping Lee with a triangle bend.
By the time Anjos closed the door to Lee's hopes, the situation had already moved in the wrong direction for this 26-year-old. The first punches on his strikes were faded. His head movement stopped. The explosiveness on his takedown entrances had smothered. In the third round, he managed only two shots.
It was a last failed attempt that condemned him, Lee pulling but back Anjos stuffing him and moving away. Lee, gripping GDR's legs, fell forward, almost face down on the carpet, probably with equal frustration and exhaustion, before Anjos's back turned against his back, grabbing the choking.
The problem is that Lee has gone to great lengths. Nobody can say the opposite. But if it's an objective truth, it's the same: part of the defeat was self-inflicted. Lee starts the fight at such a fast pace, so it's no wonder he often has very little to do for the last minutes of the fight.
Once again, he is 26 years old. This is a problem that can be corrected. Most of the best players understand that fighting at a faster pace is a risk / reward game that often works against smaller opponents, but stops paying dividends to the elite. Lee probably knows it too. To overcome this bump, he must put it into practice.
That's the big advantage of UFC Rochester, whether or not Lee is fighting in the appropriate weight class. It was his first performance at 170, and frankly, he played comparably and admirably from his light-weight past. Lee did not lose because he was exhausted by weight reduction, or because he was in bad division, or even because he was the lesser mixed martial artist. He lost because of the way he rationed his energy.
That's not to say that he would have won if he had fought at a slower pace. It's only to say that he's put a significant disadvantage for a cunning veteran to capitalize. In the first two rounds, Lee attempted nine attempts at grounding and fired 67 strikes, mostly at full power. You can see the effort in everything he does. And you can see the slowdown as you go.
Give Anjos, who manages a gentle and controlled pace throughout his fights, and it's easy to see the difference. The Brazilian is a decorated veteran and represents a chance for Lee to win his first victory over a former UFC champion. He is too experienced and too handsome to offer a handicap.
The good news is that Lee remains both young and talented. No fighter in the light weight or welterweight class gets away from watching his fights and thinking that it will be a quick or easy win. Lee has skills, heart and time.
The bad news is that none of these people guarantees him anything. The worst news is that it must find a way to solve this problem on the fly. The UFC is not likely to give him some easy fights to help him in his progression. He will continue to face a feud of murderers not very different from his last quartet. Dos Anjos, Al Iaquinta, Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson; It's not just a group of males, there's a real boggart in the mix!
Jumping into a weight class and beating the third ranked contender in the division was always going to be a big challenge. Lee did that for a few minutes. And it's something. This is significant. But to get where he wants to go, take a step forward, Lee has to do something counterintuitive: he has to slow down.