Former lightweight interim title contender Kevin Lee has been released from his UFC contract after eight years with the company.
Lee has lost his last two fights and four of his last five, with his only win since May 2018 coming via a head-kick knockout against the then-undefeated Gregor Gillespie at UFC 244.
‘The Motown Phenom’ was recently suspended for six months by USADA after failing a drug test, which he attributed to medication he takes for ADHD.
Lee was a popular figure on his rise through the promotion, racking up a record of 16-2 at one point with notable victories of Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa via submission.
Those victories earned him a lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson at UFC 216, where he was submitted in round three after coming into the bout with a staph infection.
He bounced back from that with a win over Edson Barboza in a main event bout, but his poor run followed that. His most recent appearance came at UFC Vegas 35 where he was beaten via unanimous decision in a welterweight bout by Daniel Rodriguez.
Lee’s inactivity in recent years has been an issue, fighting just four times since 2019 and just once in each of the last two years.
The decision to release him from his contract certainly comes as a shock to many, but at 29-years-old he still has plenty of time to rejuvenate his career elsewhere and potentially make a return.
His name still has star power and somewhere like Bellator or ONE Championship will surely be interested in bringing him in now that he is a free agent.
The UFC featherweight division headlines a banger of a card in the APEX as Edson Barboza takes on Giga Chikadze in the main event, while The Ultimate Fighter finals take place too.
Chikadze takes on the former lightweight contender in his first main event, but before that the finale of both the bantamweight and middleweight division from the Ultimate Fighter Returns finale will take place as Ricky Turcios takes on Brady Hiestand, followed by Bryan Battle taking on late replacement Gilbert Urbina.
Kevin Lee also makes his return to the octagon against Daniel Rodriguez at welterweight in his first fight since he was submitted by Charles Oliveira back in March 2020.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 34 we went a disappointing 6/12 with two perfect picks for the night to move to 389/612 (63.56%) with 171 perfect picks (43.96%). We’ll look to improve that here, and after starting with the early prelims and the rest of the prelims we’ll pick the main card now.
Makhmud Muradov (25-6) vs Gerald Meerschaert (32-14) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A very fun middleweight fight to open the main card as Muradov and Meerschaert meet in a classic striker vs grappler bout. Muradov has won 14-in-a-row including three-in-a-row in the UFC with his most recent fight against Andrew Sanchez ending with a flying-knee KO at UFC 257. Meerschaert bounced back from two losses in a row against Ian Heinisch and Khamzat Chimaev at UFC Vegas 11 before a submission win over Bartosz Fabinski.
Muradov is a sensational striker with great boxing skills and excellent footwork for a big man, while Meerschaert is a submission expert with 24 wins via tap out in his career. While he’s a great grappler though, he’s not a good wrestler and that is what Muradov is best at – denying takedowns and beating people up on the feet. Muradov has a tremendous speed advantage in this one and with his crisp striking it seems most likely that he can secure a win.
Overall, Muradov should have way too much for Meerschaert here. 17 wins via knockout tells me he has a killer instinct too and I think he’ll hit Meerschaert clean enough to get that big KO once again. PICK – Makhmud Muradov via Knockout, Round 2
Andre Petroski (5-1) vs Micheal Gillmore (6-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Two TUF contestants from this season go head-to-head on the finale in this one at middleweight. Petroski is 5-1 with a defeat in his most recent professional fight via knockout, while Gillmore is on a three-fight win streak in his professional career before losing in the first round of the TUF house to finalist Gilbert Urbina.
Petroski is a powerhouse wrestler with powerful striking too and a good submission game. Gillmore on the other hand is a former karate champion with great striking and okay wrestling to try and keep fights standing. The issue for him is that his wrestling isn’t even close to that of Petroski’s and his showing in the TUF house won’t do much to convince anyone of anything different.
He walked backwards with little aggression and that allowed Urbina to score an early takedown so if Petroski gets that chance then this fight won’t last long at all. PICK – Andre Petroski via Submission, Round 1
Kevin Lee (18-6) vs Daniel Rodriguez (15-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
‘The Motown Phenom’ is back in the octagon as he takes on the highly impressive ‘D-Rod’ in the welterweight division. Lee has struggled in the octagon recently, with just one win in his last four and no fights since March 2020 while Rodriguez has impressively won his last two-in-a-row against Mike Perry at UFC Vegas 23 and Preston Parsons.
Lee is a tremendous wrestler with great pedigree, but has spent most of his career in the lightweight division making him a bit of an inbetweener for division. Rodriguez on the other hand is a natural welterweight with tremendous boxing and a big size advantage for the fight. Rodriguez will use his jab plenty, but Lee will be happy to strike with him as he tries to open up the opportunities for takedowns.
The fight comes down to whether or not Lee can get a takedown and I’m not sure he can. Rodriguez absolutely has the striking advantage and power edge, and I think the size he has will be enough to stop Lee getting significant takedowns enough to score a close decision win. PICK – Daniel Rodriguez via Decision
Ricky Turcios (10-2) vs Brady Hiestand (5-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The first final from this year’s TUF series is the bantamweights. Turcios won two wars on the series this year but his most recent professional fights have been mixed, going 2-2 in his last four. Hiestand on the other hand had a close fight in the first round before securing an early TKO in his semi-final, while he is 1-1 professionally in his last two fights.
Turcios is a freestyle fighter who has good strikes with lots of volume and awkward movements, while he also has really good jiu-jitsu too. Hiestand is a solid wrestler with good top control and decent striking, but he has a lot less experience in this fight. Turcios knows how to work a crowd and judges and his volume is great, always moving forward with an iron chin.
Overall, I think once again we’ll see Turcios bring an entertaining fight but come out with a big win to be crowned the winner of this series and earn the contract. PICK – Ricky Turcios via Decision
Bryan Battle (5-1) vs Gilbert Urbina (6-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
The middleweight finale for TUF has a short-notice replacement involved after Tresean Gore pulled out with injury. Bryan Battle makes his UFC debut after two big wins as an underdog during the competition, while Urbina is brought back in to the finale after being KO’d by Gore in the semi-final in the house.
Battle is a mixed-style fighter with lots of heart and excellent cardio, with solid striking and excellent scrambles on the ground. Urbina on the other hand is a good striker with good volume but with some great wrestling to back him up too. The issue for Urbina is that he’s a welterweight naturally and against a natural middleweight he could struggle to get that wrestling going.
Battle is a great scrambler if he does get taken down and he has the volume and size advantage so should be more than able to secure an impressive win and earn himself a UFC contract. PICK – Bryan Battle via Decision
Edson Barboza (22-9) vs Giga Chikadze (13-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Barboza is a stunning striker, with incredible kicks but also brilliant power in his hands with fun body shots and ripping crosses to the chin, while Chikadze is a super accurate kickboxer with a trademark body/head kick and crisp hands. The problem for Chikadze in this banger of a fight is that Barboza throws more volume and also has some pretty good grappling too.
Overall, it comes down to who can hit their opponent the most and harder and I think that Barboza has that advantage in this fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chikadze won, but Barboza is so polished at the highest level that I can’t go against him here. PICK – Edson Barboza via Decision