5 Potential Opponents For Kevin Lee’s UFC Return

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Kevin Lee has been re-signed by the UFC. A former interim lightweight title challenger, Lee was cut from the UFC in 2021 after a disappointing run that saw him lose four of his last six fights. He spent 2022 signed to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC where he picked up a unanimous decision victory over fellow UFC alum Diego Sanchez. Now believing himself revitalized and ready for another crack at the big leagues, Lee is back in the biggest promotion in MMA.

It’s hard to say how the UFC will handle Kevin Lee’s return. They may allow him to paddle in the shallows to get reacquainted with the water or they may throw him in at the deep end.

Drew Dober

Drew Dober has endured a decade of ups-and-downs in the UFC. Every time he puts a string of wins together, he lands on the head of a snake and has to start over. His last two runs were ended by top-of-the-heap competition in Beneil Dariush and Islam Makhachev—stopping Dober’s ascension to the upper echelons of the lightweight division. He now finds himself undefeated in his past three outings, and another victory would mark his longest win streak in ten years.

Kevin Lee has fought for a belt in the UFC. It seems unlikely he’ll be asked to prove himself outside of the rankings, but they won’t thrust him in at the top either. This matchup could provide a statement win for both men. Dober can show he isn’t out of his depth with title-level opposition, and Lee can justify his re-signing with success over a tough, ranked opponent.

Nasrat Haqparast

Nasrat Haqparast has recently been given opportunities against a few bigger-name opponents. Although soundly losing decisions to both Dan Hooker and Bobby Green, he has only been stopped once in his four losses in the UFC. He has proven himself a tough challenge in these fights with his bravery, even when he doesn’t have the ability to convert that into a win. His unorthodox style makes him an interesting watch, and a firm gatekeeper to the periphery of the lightweight rankings.

Haqparast got back in the win column in his bout, taking a comfortable decision from John Makdessi. While he may not be a world-beater, Haqparast is a solid roster fighter and this matchup could be a good way for Kevin Lee to reintroduce himself to the UFC.

Guram Kutateladze

Guram Kutateladze is perhaps the most under-the-radar of lightweights’ new class of killers. He has only fought twice in the UFC, both against currently-ranked opponents in Mateusz Gamrot and Damir Ismagulov. He defeated Gamrot in his debut and dropped a razor-thin decision to Ismagulov two years later in 2022. Although Kutateladze has been very inactive since he made it to the UFC, he had a handful of cancelled bouts in that time too—most recently against Thiago Moises at UFC 283.

Kutateladze is very tricky on the feet. He puts together slick combinations and utilizes an almost strange variety of weapons. He has an interesting Jiu-Jitsu game to complement his striking and has the power to end a fight at any time. Kutateladze would likely be more risk than reward for Kevin Lee’s return, as he doesn’t have the name recognition that other options possess.

Paddy Pimblett

Paddy Pimblett faces a lot of criticism for his out-of-camp dietary habits, as he packs on the pounds between fights. But in his last outing against Jared Gordon, he didn’t even take a break from chowing down as the bout was underway—spending the opening two rounds eating every left hook he could get his hands out the way of.

Pimblett picked up the controversial decision victory, and largely turned fans against him throughout that UFC 282 fight week. Now the promotion will again seek to slightly up the level of his opponent, and that’s where Kevin Lee fits into all this. In his past spell in the UFC, Lee began to struggle when he faced the top contenders at lightweight—a position most believe Pimblett is destined to find himself. Either man could use this fight as justification of their eligibility to challenge ranked opposition, and it’s certainly winnable for both as well.

Jack Della Maddalena

This might sound farfetched, but hear it out. Kevin Lee fought at lightweight when he was last in the UFC, but opted to compete in Eagle FC’s super lightweight division at 165 pounds for his bout with Diego Sanchez. Lee had also previously called out other lightweights to meet him at a 165-pound catch weight during his first UFC stint. He said his cardio was much improved at the heavier weight, and even called himself “the most dangerous man in the world weighing 165 pounds”.

Kevin Lee is in his thirties now. He has a history of missing weight, and has competed at welterweight twice in the UFC already. It’s entirely possible that he may opt to come in at 170-pounds upon his return. Jack Della Maddalena has heavily impressed in that division over the past year, and a win over a known-name like Kevin Lee could allow him to propel past the fringe of the welterweight rankings. Similarly, it would be a big statement for Lee to move up in weight and defeat the most exciting up-and-comer there.

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