UFC Fight Night 112 goes down this weekend from the Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is headlined by a grudge match between scintillating rising lightweights #MichaelChiesa and #KevinLee. At first glance, while the rest of the slate lacks much in the way of divisional relevance, the headliner does not.
Chiesa is on a three-fight winning streak, and has won five of his last six fights. The lone blemish in that span came by way of controversial doctor stoppage when Joe Lauzon cut him above the eye with an elbow. Chiesa was surging back into the fight when it was stopped. He has a win over the ranked Francisco Trinaldo and stopped Jim Miller and Beneil Dariush most recently.
Lee, meanwhile, has gone 8-2 in his UFC run so far. His only losses are to Al Iaquinta in his debut and a shocking upset at the hands of Leonardo Santos, who himself is 5-0-1 in the big show. Lee's last three wins have all come by stoppage against the surging Jake Matthews, Magomed Mustafaev, and Trinaldo, who had won seven straight since falling to Chiesa.
Both guys have crowd-pleasing styles as well, unusual for fighters with a penchant for doing their best work on the mat. But they both ferociously pursue the finish.
Chiesa's shockingly deadly back-take and choke game is perhaps unparalleled by anyone not named Demian Maia, leading some analysts to dub him "The RNC King." Lee's crushing top pressure and silky smooth transitions often lead to similar results.
And, outside of fighting, their styles are fun and distinctive.
There's even bad blood to ratchet up the excitement level even further:
With the streaks they're on, this could be a number-one contender fight in any other division, if one of them hadn't gotten a title shot already. But this is lightweight, where Chiesa and Lee are ranked seventh and twelfth, respectively. Whoever wins this isn't getting a title shot, especially with the bottleneck at the top of the division. So as good as the fight is, where does the winner go from here?
The men ranked above Chiesa are tied up or otherwise don't make sense for the winner:
- #ConorMcGregor is off doing Conor McGregor things.
- #TonyFerguson, winner of a ridiculous nine-straight bouts, is awaiting a title shot or a big-money fight against someone like #NateDiaz.
- Diaz doesn't look like he's fighting any time soon, perhaps awaiting Conor.
- The undefeated #KhabibNurmagomedov is lurking, but he's up there with Ferguson.
- #EddieAlvarez is rematching #DustinPoirier.
- #MichaelJohnson is welcoming #JustinGaethje to the organization.
- #RafaelDosAnjos moved up to welterweight.
- The streaking #EdsonBarboza is calling for a rematch with Ferguson, the last man to beat him.
- Both Chiesa and Lee have fought Iaquinta already.
The point is, the path forward for the winner is unclear. Whoever emerges victorious likely will have put on a dazzling performance and extended his impressive winning streak, but he could still find himself multiple wins away from a title shot.
A likely outcome is that the winner squares off with Barboza. It would be cruel to make Ferguson fight another lethal contender before his title shot, especially one he already beat on his way to number-one contender status. The only other option for Ferguson, though, absent McGregor and Diaz, is Nurmagomedov, a bout that has thrice fallen through already. If the UFC is hesitant to give "The Eagle" another shot at a title after a bad weight cut nixed his last attempt, he would be the other opponent who would get either Lee or Chiesa to a title shot the fastest.
Outside of Barboza and Khabib, the other options are the winners of the upcoming Alvarez-Poirier and Johnson-Gaethje battles. But after beating either of them, the theoretical victor still might not find himself in a title fight.
All this to say, getting a title fight at lightweight is hard. It doesn't help that the champion isn't defending, creating a pile-up of contenders at the top who have earned title shots and (rightfully) don't want to take any other fight, especially after surviving the vicious lightweight gauntlet to get to that point.
Sunday's main event will be a brilliant battle between two elite competitors dead set on a championship run. Unfortunately, that's just par for the course in the most talented weight class in MMA. You either have to do something truly historic or convince McGregor you'd make him the most money.
Good luck with that.
UFC Oklahoma City Complete Fight Card (June 25, 2017)
FOX Sports 1 Main Card (9 P.M. EST / 6 P.M. PST)
- Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Lee
- Tim Boetsch vs. Johny Hendricks
- Felice Herrig vs. Justine Kish
- Joachim Christensen vs. Dominick Reyes
- Tim Means vs. Alex Garcia
- B.J. Penn vs. Dennis Siver
FOX Sports 2 Preliminary Card (7 P.M. EST / 4 P.M. PST)
- Clay Guida vs. Erich Koch
- Carla Esparza vs. Maryna Moroz
- Devin Powell vs. Darrell Horcher
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims (5:30 P.M. EST / 2:30 P.M. PST)
- Jared Gordon vs. Michael Quinones
- Josh Stansbury vs. Jeremy Kimball
- Johnny Case vs. Tony Martin