With six knockout wins featured among his past eight UFC fights, Derrick Lewis has been one of the most menacing presences in the heavyweight division’s recent history.
But, in reality, Lewis hadn’t been feeling that great for a while. Dealing with injuries, and lacking the motivation to go through the whole fight process, Lewis says his past three or four fights were preceded by “mediocre” training. When that resulted on a loss – a fourth-round TKO to Mark Hunt in June – Lewis took the MMA world by surprise by announcing he was walking away.
But then, a mere two months later, Lewis (18-5 MMA, 9-3 UFC) was announced in the UFC 216 lineup opposite former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1 MMA, 9-4 UFC).
“The Black Beast,” it turns out, only needed a little time off. And by the sound (and looks) of it, it seems that it did him some good.
“I think you’ll see me bouncing around the cage like I’m a welterweight,” Lewis told MMAjunkie ahead of the pay-per-view main card fight, which takes place Oct. 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “I’m moving pretty good, I’m feeling good. My strength and conditioning coach, Jimmy Gerland, has really been pushing me and making me better than I’ve ever been.
“I’m feeling incredible right now. Ain’t no excuses should come out of my mouth after this fight. Win, lose or draw, you should just see a damn good performance out of myself.”
And if a faster, better-conditioned Lewis didn’t sound scary enough, he’s found some added motivation in his competition, too.
“I feel like this is the championship fight,” Lewis said. “Because Werdum – he was the champion like two years ago. And this is basically like a little mini championship fight for me, so I’m going to take it like it is one.”
Werdum was indeed the champion not that long ago – more precisely, until May 2016, when a UFC 198 battle saw the belt move on to current champ Stipe Miocic’s hands. He’s since gone on a 1-1 octagon run, with an unanimous call over Travis Browne followed by a majority-decision loss to Alistair Overeem.
While the strides made in Werdum’s standup game under the guidance of Rafael Cordeiro have been subject of praise, the grappling that earned the Brazilian heavyweight submission wins over legends like Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are still his most well-known weapon.
Lewis, in turn, is mostly seen as a heavy-handed opponent who offers the most danger on his feet – which, judging by a record that includes 16 knockout wins, isn’t exactly an inaccurate assessment.
Are we looking at a classic striker vs. grappler matchup here, then? Well, Lewis is not offended by you saying that at all. He’s just not particularly worried, either.
“I’ve been hearing that my whole career,” Lewis said. “Seven, eight years – I’ve been hearing the same thing: Every time I’m fighting, even a striker, (that) if the guy would ever take me down, then he’d have the advantage, and I’m really not worried about that.
“I believe that, if my conditioning is on point – which I know it is – and just listen to my coaches and watch my hand placement for whenever I do get on top or whatever position I’m at.
“I believe it’s just going to really take one punch. Even if he tries to play that pull guard crap. If you’re playing that pull guard crap, then he’ll see that he’s going to get knocked out.”
It seems we can expect a refreshed version of Lewis to hit the octagon next month. But there’s still at least one thing about “The Black Beast” and his approach to the fight game that hasn’t really changed.
“It’s all about the money,” Lewis said. “I don’t give a damn about the title. If I fight for the title, that’s fine. But if not, I don’t care. If fighting for the title is going to give me more money, than I’ll fight for it.”
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