One to Watch: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Kevin Lee
With the UFC welterweight title fight between Tyron Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson stinking out the joint in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena last weekend, the promotion hopes to alleviate any boo-laden memories of UFC 209’s main event with a surprisingly strong UFC Fight Night card on Saturday night.
UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum, otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 106, will be taking place in Fortaleza, Brazil’s, Centro de Formação Olímpica do Nordeste. And while the vast majority of Brazil’s non pay-per-view events often leave much to be desired for those outside of the country, this Fight Night card is glaringly different.
As you may have guessed, Vitor Belfort and Kelvin Gastelum will be squaring off in the main event in a match-up pitting old guard against new, while that bout is supported with a fight between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Gian Villante, serving as the co-main event.
Supplementary fights such as Edson Barboza vs. Beneil Dariush, Jussier Formiga vs. Ray Borg, Alex Oliveira vs. Tim Means, and the return of Brazilian favourites Sergio Moraes, Rani Yahya and Rony Jason round off a solid fight card which serves more than just the local populace alone.
Arguably one of the more competitive match-ups of the night, the largely unheralded lightweight contest featuring Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee serves as the preliminary card headliner.
The little attention this bout has garnered is particularly surprising, considering the latter is as brash as he is talented, while the former, also known as “Massaranduba,” has not lost in three years and shares the third-longest active winning streak—of seven—in the UFC 155lbs division, behind Khabib Nurmagomedov’s eight and Tony Ferguson’s nine consecutive wins.
Ranked 11th in the UFC rankings, Trinaldo has quietly built a concrete CV within the Octagon after joining the UFC roster following an unsuccessful stint in The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil as a middleweight. He has beaten the likes of Paul Felder, Yancy Medeiros, Ross Pearson, Chad Laprise and Norman Parke in his ongoing run of wins. At present, Massaranduba is 11-3 in the UFC and his only losses have come to talented lightweights Michael Chiesa, Piotr Hallmann and the hulking Gleison Tibau.
At 38, Trinaldo isn’t exactly a spring chicken of combat sports. He was originally a kickboxer, boasting a 12-1 record in that discipline before switching to MMA full-time, but his record indicates he is a well-rounded mixed martial artist despite his roots—with seven knockout wins, five submissions and nine decision victories helping build his 21-4 record.
However, Massaranduba’s progress in the UFC has been hampered due to his inability to speak English, something which has unfortunately hindered other fighters in the past when it comes to a push from the UFC’s all-powerful marketing machine. Then there is the fact five of his last seven wins have come by decision—some of which were rather unconvincing. This issue is enhanced when you take into account how he is competent in all areas and is not a divisional gatekeeper by any means, hence why the majority of his opponents have been competent, yet middling competitors so far, rather than up-and-coming talents with the UFC fearful of having hopes of a hype job snuffed out by a skilful but unmarketable fighter.
This changes on Saturday night, as Lee is very much the up-and-coming talent that has eluded the aging Trinaldo so far in his UFC tenure.
Like Trinaldo, Lee has compiled a nice 7-2 record inside the UFC and is riding the wave of three consecutive wins. The Detroit, Michigan, native is hopeful he can steal Massaranduba’s momentum on Saturday night to improve his run and save the UFC a whole load of bother in one fell swoop.
“I think I’m doing [the UFC] a favour,” Lee told MMAjunkie. “The kid’s old. He’s getting up there, so they’re like, ‘This motherfucker keeps winning fights.’ He’s on a crazy win streak. And it’s like, ‘Damn, he keeps winning fights. We need somebody to go out there and steal his thunder, steal his shine and take that ranking away from him.’
“I don’t think they want him in that top five. Clearly I’m much more marketable. But I think in order to make the fight happen, they had to make it down in Brazil, because you’ve got to give and take something. If he’s going to take on a young lion like me, at least it’s got to be in his hometown.”
“The Motown Phenom” was a talented wrestler in his youth, continuing his career through to Grand Valley State University, where he was a national tournament qualifier, before dropping out to focus on MMA. Just 24 years old, Lee has visibly matured every time he’s set foot in the Octagon, gradually adjusting his game to stick to his bread and butter as a wrestler rather than throwing punches and kicks with more accomplished strikers.
That transition would have been influenced by his first-round TKO loss against Leonardo Santos back in December, 2015, at UFC 194. Since then, Lee won a decision against former The Ultimate Fighter winner Efrain Escudero, scored an upset TKO win over highly-touted Australian prospect Jake Matthews, and took an impressive submission win over Magomed Mustafaev, who was unbeaten in the UFC at the time.
Massaranduba is the natural step to potential progression in the UFC’s lightweight rankings for Lee, who is unranked at present. Victory for the American would certainly improve his stock in the MMA world, despite his opponent’s little-known name in North America and beyond. Despite that, a win, meaning Lee stopped a seven-fight win streak, would be a nice additional wrinkle to a young, talented fighter who is pretty marketable as it is. Meanwhile, if Trinaldo were to win, Lee is a big enough US-based name to help build his reputation as a lightweight force in spite of his opponent’s status as an unranked fighter at 155lbs.
With Trinaldo striving for his breakthrough moment to be mentioned in the UFC title picture and Lee seeking his opportunity to become a ranked lightweight, this is undoubtedly the biggest fight both men’s respective careers. Make sure you watch it live on Saturday night.
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