Have you ever been so excited for a fight that you cannot stop thinking about it? Usually, this comes in the form of a title fight or a bitter grudge match between rival foes, but this weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 28 main event between #8 Kevin Lee and #13 Charles “do Bronx” Oliveira scratches that itch for me.
First, Oliveira is a veteran assassin who is riding a six-fight winning streak in which he was able to put the icing on the cake with a finish in each of those fights. The 30-year-old Brazilian made his debut in the UFC at 12-0 in August of 2010 against Darren Elkins. Nearly 10 years and 25 fights later, “do Bronx” is headlining a card in his home country for the biggest fight of his career against former title challenger Kevin Lee.
Oliveira has 15 finishes in the UFC, 13 of which have come by way of submission. However, he has got it done with his hands in his last two fights, displaying the evolution of his game as a mixed martial artist.
Lee was also early to arrive at the party for the UFC, making his debut with the promotion at just 21-years-old. Lee went on to climb the ladder in the lightweight division and ultimately earned a title shot against the then-interim champ Tony Ferguson.
After losing the title fight, Lee had an adversity-filled next three fights. He beat Edson Barbosa by Doctor’s Stoppage, but was nearly finished by a head kick that forever lives in internet glory as a “stanky leg” meme. Lee dropped the next two fights to Al Iaquinta and then to Rafael Dos Anjos at welterweight. The “Motown Phenom” appeared to be on a downward spiral; however, a move to TriStar gym before his UFC 244 return to lightweight looked to be the lifeline Lee was looking for. In the fight, Lee scored a first-round knockout against undefeated prospect Gregor Gillespie with a head kick that was set up perfectly by an overhand punch.
Lee and Oliveira both have a grapple-heavy style, with Lee having a collegiate wrestling background and Oliveira being a BJJ black belt. Both guys also aren’t shy about mixing it up on the feet.
Because both guys have a strong ground game, and Lee has to be on guard for a submission attempt any time they tie-up. Oliveira pulled off the first “calf slicer” submission in UFC history back in 2012 and has eight different submission finishes on his resume. Lee has struggled with the weight cut at times, which in turn impacts his cardio. It will be interesting to see if Oliveira will be able to drag Lee into deep water and find another finish to keep his streak alive.
In the co-main event, fans are treated to a welterweight matchup between a Brazilian legend in #5 Demian Maia and surging prospect #12 Gilbert Burns. Both are world champion grapplers, and neither has been submitted in 47 combined fights.
What does this mean? It means that you are much more likely to see a chess match than a slobber knocker. MMA has a cruel way of cannibalizing its stars, which is something we may see this weekend. Burns is very active on the submission grappling scene still, which prompts the discussion of the proverbial “changing of the guard.”
It is worth noting that the only three losses the 42-year-old Maia has suffered since 2014 (when Burns made his UFC debut) are against guys who held UFC gold: Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman. Maia is currently on a three-fight winning streak with his most recent win over Ben Askren.
Other notable storylines:
- Johnny Walker returns after a devastating KO loss to Cory Anderson against Nikita Krylov. The once white-hot prospect, Walker, has yet to regain form since injuring himself doing the worm in celebration after finishing Misha Ciruknov with a highlight-reel flying knee.
- Top flyweight contenders Jussier Furmiga and Brandon Moreno headline the prelims. Furmiga holds a victory over Deiveson Figueiredo, who just beat Joe Benavidez. Benavidez beat Furmiga, so, you know, MMA math…
- The Ultimate Fighter season 20 veteran Randa Markos steps in for the injured Paige VanZant against Brazilian Amanda Ribas. The 8-1 Ribas is undefeated since joining the UFC with her only loss coming to fellow UFC fighter Polyana Viana on a Jungle Fight card back in 2015. Markos is 6-6-1 since joining the UFC.
- Rani Yahya is making the walk-in his hometown for the 37th time in his professional career. Yahya made his pro debut in 2002 and made his UFC debut with a win against former fighter turned Coach Of The Year award winner Mike Brown of American Top Team.
- Veronica Macedo returns to bantamweight (defeated Polyana Viana via the first-round armbar at UFC Uruguay) against TUF 28 cast member Bea Malecki in the opening bout of the evening.
The UFC will be down in Brazil this Saturday, and the prelims will be kicking off at 3 p.m. MT and can be viewed on ESPN+. The main card will follow and is scheduled to start the broadcast at 6 p.m.