Kevin Lee reclaimed his place among the lightweight elite at UFC Atlantic City when he stopped Edson Barboza with a devastating fifth-round assault.
It was a well-rounded performance for Lee — he outstruck Barboza by an overwhelming margin of 223-64 and secured four takedowns to Barboza’s zero — but it was also an impressive display of heart from Barboza, who pushed through adversity and showcased extreme grit to survive until the doctors intervened. So it’s not surprising that Lee walked away from their bout with even more respect for Barboza than he had before.
“He was one of the strongest dudes that I think I’ve ever faced,” Lee said Monday on The MMA Hour. “It’s just that, it’s a different type of explosiveness, and it’s something that I admire a little bit in him. It’s something that I was trying to sit back and watch and see how I could pick up things to steal from him, because even when he’s dead tired, he’s very, very dangerous. You’ve got to stay on your Ps and Qs.
“He did his thing. He showed up to fight. I gave respect to Barboza all the way through this, but I give him even more respect afterward, because that man showed up to fight.”
Although Lee wrapped things up with a fifth-round TKO stoppage, the first 10 minutes of the fight were where “The Motown Phenom” really set the tone.
In two of the most dominant opening rounds in recent memory, Lee wrestled Barboza to the floor and oustruck the Brazilian by a ridiculous margin of 136-13 to begin the bout, earning elusive 10-8 scores on both the first and second rounds of each judge’s scorecards. The lopsided outing mirrored Barboza’s previous recent loss — a grueling, wrestling-heavy mauling at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is now the UFC lightweight champion — and Lee admitted afterward that he almost felt bad for Barboza as the fight went on.
“He took a whooping, and I kinda took it a little bit easy on him too after that,” Lee said. “It was like during the second round, I could see he was taking a whooping and I didn’t want to keep hitting that man like that. He’s a nice guy, I wish him nothing but the best. Yeah, he’s taken a whooping these last few fights, but he’s going to come back and he’s going to knock some dudes clean out. I mean, Barboza’s still one of the toughest guys in this division, hands down. I think if anything, this is just going to make him tougher.
“Once his body heals up, he’s still only like 31, 32, so the man still has a lot of years left if he wants them. He’s just going to heal up, he’s going to come back stronger, and he’s a couple more knockouts away — and you never know, you might see him up there again.”