Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight rivals Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee rematched last night (Dec. 15, 2018) at UFC on FOX 31 from inside Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Iaquinta returned from a two-year layoff to knock out Diego Sanchez and get dominated by Khabib Nurmagomedov. That’s perhaps the widest competition level disparity between two consecutive fights ever, which leaves Iaquinta in this odd position where no one really knows how good he is. Alternatively, Lee has proven himself repeatedly in the last year or so, winning some big fights and putting forth a strong effort opposite Tony Ferguson in a interim lightweight title shot. For Lee, this fight was all about smashing his opponent and making his case for another opportunity at gold.
Iaquinta opened the fight feinting toward the single leg, looking to fire off punches after touching the leg. In one nice exchange, Iaquinta spun into an elbow after touching the lead leg. As the two settled into the fight, however, Lee began to operate as a Southpaw more often: a wise choice from “The MoTown Phenom.” Lee did not bother to attempt a takedown in the first, as he was too busy picking at Lee with long straights. In addition, the left kick was landing well from Lee.
Iaquinta landed some nice counters along the way and made it close. Despite Lee’s range advantage, Iaquinta managed to slip and fire his right with some consistency.
Lee kickboxed from Southpaw for the first minute on the second round before remembering that he’s an elite wrestler. Immediately, Lee wrapped the New Yorker in a body lock and forcibly muscled his foe to the mat. Moving into back mount, Lee secured a body triangle and whacked away for a couple minutes.
Miraculously, Iaquinta managed to slip away from Lee’s best position, escaping back to his feet. Lee seemed a bit foot slow from holding the triangle for so long, allowing Iaquinta to land some good body shots and a hard right hand or two before the bell.
It was Lee’s round, but escaping the back mount was a great moment for Iaquinta.
The third round began with more kickboxing, and Iaquinta looked the sharper man. Lee worked his jab and long straight, but Iaquinta finally had a true read on his timing, allowing him to slip and rip with the right hand repeatedly. Nothing too devastating landed from either man, which made Lee’s takedown in the second half of the round rather important. Once more, Lee moved quickly into the back mount, but this time he was able to maintain control until the end of the round.
To Iaquinta’s credit, he did a much better job of fighting hands and denying both major damage and the submission than any of Lee’s past foes.
Iaquinta came out looking for his overhand in the fourth round, and he found it two-to-three times in the opening minute. Lee did his best to keep a poker face, but he was on wobbly legs and backing away from exchanges. At one point, Iaquinta also landed a clean, slapping right high kick across the jaw. Oddly, Lee largely decided to back away and shift side-to-side while recovering instead of shooting for a takedown, a strange decision considering how well Lee did whenever he actually wrestled. Lee recovered a bit by the end of the round to land, but he never did attempt a takedown in the fourth.
As a result, Iaquinta picked him apart for most of the five minutes.
Lee remembered his wrestling not long into the fifth. He took a bad single leg shot and scrambled for a while, nearly securing the shot after a bad entry. However, Iaquinta ultimately managed to deny the takedown, putting the two back in the center with two minutes left on the clock. Not long after, Iaquinta landed a hard left uppercut that stunned Lee, although the younger man answered back with some hard straight counters. Iaquinta continued forward undeterred and landed a dozen right hands in the final minute, really forcing Lee to his back foot and keeping him uncomfortable. Once more, a dominant round from the New Yorker.
Ultimately, all three judges awarded Al Iaquinta the decision victory.
Iaquinta did everything he had to do here. He found the timing on his right hand and then threw it frequently, a difficult task when you consider the level of wrestler he was facing. Speaking of, Iaquinta did a fantastic job of staying low before firing the power punch and targeting the body — a pair of factors that make shooting more difficult.
In addition, Iaquinta held up tremendously well over five rounds. He ate some hard shots throughout and pushed a solid pace, but never once did he back off or really need time to recover. When he pushed ahead of Lee, he stayed ahead.
With this win, Iaquinta proves himself a true top Lightweight and deserves another big fight next. How about a brawl with Justin Gaethje?
As great a performance this was from Iaquinta, it was an equally bad one from Lee, who really failed to make the most of his skill set. In the first three rounds, Lee had zero difficulty taking Iaquinta down whenever he actually chose to wrestle. Seeing as he was banking on winning those early rounds, doesn’t it seem advisable to score those takedowns while fresh? Instead, Lee spent the entire first round striking, and the round turned out to be the deciding five minutes.
Beyond that, Lee simply looked off. He never looked all that comfortable or confident; it looked like Lee was forcing a lot of his punches. I don’t know if his weight cut was particularly harsh, if there was another issue, or if Al Iaquinta is simply that good. Even in a different losing performance, Lee looked much sharper on his feet against Tony Ferguson.
Lee needs to head back to the drawing board.
Last night, Al Iaquinta overcame the odds to out-work Kevin Lee. Who should Iaquinta face next?
For complete UFC on FOX 31 ‘Iaquinta vs. Lee 2’ results and play-by-play, click HERE!