Detroit-born UFC fighter Kevin Lee saw off Aurora-based opponent Michael Chiesa to progress to 15-2 Sunday night at a UFC fight night in Oklahoma City. The twenty-four-year-old dominated the first round landing heavy punches to Chiesa before sinking in a successful rear-naked choke to win the fight in what has been described as a controversial stoppage by referee Mario Yamasaki. Chiesa and fans alike were left furious as it appeared to all in attendance that Chiesa had never tapped although some speculated he may have looked to be losing consciousness from the point of view of the ref. The win catapults the before number eleven ranked Lee into possible future title contention in the UFC lightweight division.

Bad Blood

Prior to the fight last night in Oklahoma City an intense rivalry had grown between both Chiesa and Lee earlier this year. Bad blood had brewed between the fighters as a result of events that transgressed during the UFC’s ‘summer kick-off’ press conference back in May earlier this year. Violence had erupted between the fighters whilst the floor was opened for each of them to answer media questions regarding their upcoming fight.

Chiesa was seen as having left his seat and approach the area in which his opponent was seated; on the other side of the stage after Lee had mentioned his mother. Lee was reported as saying ‘I know his momma has bought tickets’ commenting on how he would embarrass Chiesa. Chiesa responded as saying ‘never bring up my Mother’ before rushing Lee causing a scuffle to break out.

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It was at this point Lee struck Chiesa before security restrained the pair.

After the press conference, both fighters were uncompromising in their individual positions when talking to the media claiming the other fighter was the provocateur. Lee told FOX news that the UFC understood his position explaining he was left no option but to defend himself when approached by Chiesa.

The ensuing media circus certainly did very little to calm the fire between the two fighters. On the contrary, fight pundits predicted early that the further media commitments of each fighter (as part of their contracted fight promotion) would serve to fuel the rivalry. Fellow fighter and number two ranked lightweight Tony Ferguson told FOX that he believed Chiesa would use the intense emotion resulting from the rivalry to motivate him to find a way to victory.

Fight predictions

Prior to the fight, there was little to split the two lightweights leading to diversely polarized fight predictions. The tale of the tape revealed only minor physical differentials between the number six ranked contender Chiesa and his number eleven ranked opponent Lee. The most notable was a four-inch height advantage for Chiesa over the 5’9’’ Lee, as well as a one and a half inch reach advantage, this time in Lee’s favor (77’’). All else appeared equal between Chiesa who commanded a record of 14-2-0 and Lee (15-2-0) who was himself looking to break into the list of top ten contenders in the 155lb division.

Regular FOX Sports MMA analyst and former UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz outlined his keys to victory for both fighters live on FOX Sports prior to the fight, offering an expert insight into how the fight could unfold. Cruz predicted; like many, that if Lee the (-140) favorite were to beat his opponent the fight would most likely be ended on the feet ascribing his best chance of victory as through a right head kick against his southpaw opponent.

Conversely, it was Chiesa’s grappling that was highlighted as the probable route to victory for the (+110) underdog. Cruz was recorded as stating that Chiesa would look to shoot for takedowns off of his left handed straight shot - a fundamental punch for fighters competing out of the southpaw stance. This analysis was in agreement with the predictions of other fight pundits who believed Chiesa would seek to grapple and wear down his opponent with his trademark, smothering style on the way to securing a submission victory.

Tony Ferguson who was billed to fight Chiesa back in 2016; prior to Chiesa suffering a back injury, believed ultimately Chiesa possessed the tools to gain victory backing Chiesa as the ‘smarter’ fighter. Certainly, there seemed to be a near consensus amongst fight fans and experts alike that if Chiesa were to win, it would come via submission, especially as Chiesa had previously finished 71% of his fourteen previous winning fights by submission.

On the flipside, it was believed by many that Lee’s best chance of winning would be on the feet. It was stated by some that Chiesa would potentially be vulnerable early in the fight owing to a lay-off due to injury that had kept him out of competition since 2016. Ultimately the fight had shaped up to be a close encounter between Chiesa coming off of back to back finishes and Lee who was carrying a four-fight win streak consisting of three finishes. Prior to Sunday, the fight was too close to call!

The story

The story of the fight was anything far from a close call in what can only be described as a single round domination of Michael Chiesa by the victor Kevin Lee. Midway through the initial round Lee successfully completed a takedown and from that point onwards Chiesa was every bit neutralized by the Detroit man. Lee set out to land continuous brutal punches from the back mount secured around Chiesa by a body triangle.

Lee continued to hammer away at his opponent well into the final half of the first round until seeking to establish a rear naked choke. At four minutes thirty-seven seconds into the first round Lee successfully sank in the rear naked choke leading to a somewhat controversial stoppage by referee Mario Yamasaki. It was speculated by UFC veteran Dominick Cruz that perhaps Yamasaki thought Chiesa was losing consciousness and stopped the fight as a matter of the duty of care he had to his fighters. Other speculated that perhaps some of the actions made by Chiesa’s left arm whilst attempting to fight off the choke may have resembled a tapping motion.

Chiesa pleaded his case immediately standing to his feet stating his case to the referee out of sheer frustration, being heard as saying ‘I didn’t F****** tap’ multiple times. Chiesa further pleaded his case in the post-fight interview and preceded to call out Lee for a rematch back in Detroit. This may potentially present a scenario for the rematch however it seems unlikely as Lee seemed adamant in victory he wanted to move on up to challenge Russian eagle Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Ultimately the main event in Oklahoma that may well have presented fans with a hard fought, nail biting contest ends as a short-lived, controversial affair that will remain shrouded in doubt regarding the officiating of referee Mario Yamasaki.