Amidst a lot of bad blood leading into the main event, Kevin Lee earned a first round submission win over Michael Chiesa but not without some controversy after a controversial stoppage from the referee.
After coming to blows at a press conference in May, Lee and Chiesa both had a score to settle when stepping into the Octagon on Sunday night. Unfortunately there was a bizarre ending that nearly robbed Lee of a star making moment in his first UFC main event.
It all went down late into the opening round after Lee attached himself to Chiesa’s back while locking up a body triangle to begin searching for a rear naked choke.
Lee has been a bit of a slow starter at points during his UFC career but Chiesa woke him up early with a stiff, straight punch that snapped his head back.
Chiesa quickly rushed forward while Lee fell backwards towards the mat, but the 24-year old Detroit native recovered in a hurry before grabbing onto a takedown against the cage. Lee lifted Chiesa up into the air before slamming him back down to the ground.
From there, Lee advanced his position where he took Chiesa’s back and got his foot locked around his leg for a suffocating body triangle.
It didn’t take long for Lee to get his arms into position for the rear naked choke and it appeared that Chiesa had nowhere left to go with a grimace on his face thanks to the submission being applied.
Lee tightened his grip and it appeared that he was about to get the finish when referee Mario Yamasaki rushed into stop the fight. Chiesa immediately popped up from the ground protesting the decision considering he never tapped out and never went to sleep as a result of the choke.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) June 26, 2017
Replays showed that Chiesa was certainly in trouble but it was clear that Yamasaki prematurely called an end to the fight before Lee had a chance to fully put his opponent away.
The end came at 4:37 into the opening round as Lee celebrated his first win over a top 10 opponent in the UFC.
“I just follow what the ref tells me,” Lee said after his hand was raised in victory. “The ref told me to stop, he stopped, I’m just choking him. I’m getting ready to get it in so if he wants to do it again we can, but it’s going to be four more rounds of that.
“It was coming anyway. I didn’t feel the tap, I didn’t see the tap, I never do. I usually choke the guy till he goes unconscious. I just stopped because Mario told me to.”
Afterwards, Lee was happy to offer Chiesa a rematch if he was unhappy with the result, but he’d rather see the No. 1 ranked lightweight contender standing in front of him instead.
“I want Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. December in Detroit, I’m headlining that card. If Khabib don’t want it, then Mike can get it in Detroit,” Lee said.
For his part, Chiesa stamped down his anger after a controversial ending but gladly accepted the challenge if Lee was willing to face him for a second time later this year.
“I’m not going to say any choice things about officiating,” Chiesa said. “Kevin, I will see you in December in Detroit for the rematch. Let’s keep the hype alive.”
Lee may have been well on his way to putting Chiesa to sleep but Yamasaki’s decision to stop the fight when he did kept “The Motown Phenom” from having that opportunity. Still it’s impossible to deny that Lee stepped onto the biggest stage of his UFC career and put on arguably his best performance to date.
As the lightweight division remains arguably the deepest and toughest in the entire sport, Lee sent notice that he’s a serious threat to anybody and everybody ahead of him in the rankings.