Kevin Lee closed out UFC Fight Night 128 with a memorable performance that saw him completely shut down Edson Barboza as he claimed a fifth-round TKO victory via doctor stoppage in the main event from Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Lee established his type of fight from the jump, securing a takedown within the first minute of the opening round. The UFC passed along the highlight:
Things went from bad to worse for Barboza from there. The electrifying kickboxer found himself nullified on the ground as an aggressive Lee switched from mount to side control and back again while delivering heavy ground-and-pound.
Jordan Breen of Sherdog summed up the action from the opening frame with concern for the Brazilian:
The wear and tear was evident for Barboza in Round 2. He actually shot a takedown on Lee, but the Motown Phenom easily shucked the attempt before landing some impressive strikes of his own in the standup.
That was soon followed up by more smothering top game from Lee, and Twitter reacted overwhelmingly with respect for his evolving game:
Just when it appeared that Lee would cruise unabated, to victory Barboza opened the third round with a spinning back kick that hobbled his opponent. Although he had him stumbling, he wasn't able to take advantage. Lee scored a takedown and recovered while on the ground:
Bloody Elbow was impressed that Barboza could muster the energy to throw the kick:
The notion of a comeback was quickly squashed in the fourth round. Lee went into rinse-and-repeat mode and spent the period delivering constant pressure and damage on the ground.
The fifth round was more of the same as Lee went to work on an exhausted Barboza. Fortunately, the doctor was brought into the equation and mercifully called an end to the bout.
After the bout, the Motown Phenom called out Khabib Nurmagomedov in what would be a dynamic matchup of excellent grapplers:
The high-profile lightweight bout wasn't the only noteworthy fight of the night, though. The Atlantic City crowd witnessed a few interesting matchups that could have a future impact on their respective divisions. Frankie Edgar and Aljamain Sterling got back to their winning ways, a heavyweight prospect took another step toward becoming ranked, and Dan Hooker showcased his skills in the lightweight division.
Here's a quick look at the complete results followed by a closer look at the main card bouts.
- Kevin Lee def. Edson Barboza via TKO (doctor stoppage). Round 5, 2:18
- Frankie Edgar def. Cub Swanson via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Justin Willis def. Chase Sherman via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- David Branch def. Thiago Santos via first-round TKO (2:30)
- Aljamain Sterling def. Brett Johns via UD (30-27 x3)
- Dan Hooker def. Jim Miller via first-round KO (3:00)
- Ryan LaFlare def. Alex Garcia by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Ricky Simon def. Merab Dvalishvili via third-round TKO (5:00)
- Siyar Bahadurzada def. Luan Chagas via second-round KO (2:40)
- Corey Anderson def. Patrick Cummins via UD (30-26 x2, 30-27)
- Tony Martin def. Keita Nakamura via UD (30-27 x3)
Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson
It's been more than three years since Frankie Edgar fought Cub Swanson, but the end result was the same: The Answer getting his hand raised at the end of the night.
Edgar utilized movement and aggression to control the pace of the fight as Swanson continued to look for counters that weren't there.
It was an impressive performance for Edgar, who was coming off the first knockout loss of his career to Brian Ortega and dealing with tragedy in his personal life. ESPN's Brett Okamoto gave Edgar props for pushing though a lot of adversity to get the win:
Edgar addressed those doubting he'd be able to come back and deliver a strong performance after a devastating knockout loss:
Edgar's performance is fitting for the fighter he's been throughout his career. He might not have a ton of knockout power, slick submission skills or a knack for finding finishes, but he's tough, durable and willing to put the pressure on anyone.
Beating Swanson simply shows he's ready to continue doing his thing against most of the people in this division even if the top tier have passed him by.
Chase Sherman vs. Justin Willis
The heavyweight division is always good for quickly evaporating output, big power and labored breathing. The Chase Sherman-Justin Willis bout delivered all of those things as Willis outpointed Sherman to a unanimous-decision victory.
Sherman came up on the losing end, but should be commended for pushing the pace against the 30-year-old Willis, who is now 3-0 in the UFC. He came forward and tried to take control of the fight while showcasing serious toughness recovering from this monster shot in the first round:
Willis' bomb was a harbinger for the rest of the fight. Sherman initiating only to be met by looping counterpunches from Willis was the typical engagement across the three-round bout.
Ultimately Willis came out looking good, and in this division, it doesn't take much to do that. As Michael Carroll of FightMetric noted, he now stands out with one of the longest win streaks in the division...with three.
Regardless, it's likely we will see Willis getting a generous step up in competition in the near future. Given the skills he just demonstrated in the cage, he's definitely someone to keep an eye on moving forward.
Thiago Santos vs. David Branch
Who says David Branch isn't a knockout artist?
Well, everyone does. Branch is a good fighter, but he isn't known for his knockout power.
That just made his first-round knockout win over Thiago Santos all the more shocking. Santos was considered the more powerful striker, but Branch's forward movement paid off in a big way when he landed a crushing overhand right that gave him his first knockout win since 2014.
The UFC passed along the highlight of the perfectly landed punch:
Branch has been on fire as of late. The underrated former World Series of Fighting light heavyweight and middleweight champion has done nothing but win throughout his career, even if it's ugly. It's made him someone who isn't a fan favorite, but Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting gave him props:
His only loss since 2012 came at the hands of former UFC champion Luke Rockhold.
With this win giving him a little momentum, his opportunity to get a big fight in the division should be revitalized.
Brett Johns vs. Aljamain Sterling
After taking a knockout loss to Marlon Moraes last time out, it would be understandable to have a hard time picking Aljamain Sterling over undefeated prospect Brett Johns. However, you'd be wrong.
Aljo showcased his high-level grappling once again to outclass Johns in a unanimous decision across the board.
Sterling's grappling was simply better than Johns through the course of three rounds, but even more promising was the bits of striking that he put together. He looked comfortable in the stand-up and was aggressive in exchanges:
Bryan Caraway, who beat Sterling in 2016, recognized the improvements he saw in his former foe:
This win should help Sterling continue his reputation as a top-10 fighter in the division. After losing to Moraes, he needed a win to prove his place among that tier of fighters, and while this win probably doesn't get him much higher than his No. 8 ranking, it certainly shows why he should be ranked that high.
Dan Hooker vs. Jim Miller
Dan Hooker made it known that he's a force to be reckoned with as a lightweight. Since returning to the 155-pound weight class from the featherweight ranks, Hooker has made a habit of finishing fighters, claiming his third consecutive finish against Jim Miller via first-round knockout.
The knockout came at the three-minute mark, but it was far from a one-sided beatdown. Miller was able to showcase some of his top game and had some good moments in the fight, but Hooker demonstrated his ability to turn the fight on a dime.
An attempted takedown from Miller was met by a right knee from Hooker that knocked him to the mat. A follow-up punch later, and the fight was called off.
It was an impressive performance from a man who is starting to make some noise in a stacked division. He finished off the night by calling out ranked lightweight Paul Felder, who was conducting the post-fight interview:
While this was another win that should boost Hooker's profile, it's another sign that the end of Miller's career is coming. The veteran now has four consecutive losses after a three-fight win streak in 2016.