It wasn’t the barnburner we’ve come to expect from Derrick Lewis, but "Black Beast" got the job done, coming back from a three-round deficit to pound out Russian kickboxer Shamil Abdurakhimov last night (Fri., Dec. 10, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 102 in Albany, New York.
Those three rounds were some of the most execrable of the night. Lewis whiffed badly with his wound-up punches, while Abdurakhimov contented himself with catching kicks for easy takedowns and landing the occasional counter right. He didn’t really do anything with those takedowns, either. In fact, the most significant ground action of the fight came when Lewis spun for a heel hook.
This is the gamble Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) plays when it tops cards with Heavyweight fighters. The potential for early finishes is weighed against big throwing hands that may very well cause ugly exchanges and drained output late into rounds. We got the former when Francis Ngannou landed a Sakuraba-style spinning kimura on Anthony Hamilton in the co-main event. We got the latter in the main event.
What’s interesting about Lewis aside from his raw power is that he knows the gamble and plays his own version. While he’s known as a wild slugger, nine of his 16 stoppage wins have come after the first round. Against Viktor Pesta, he spent the first eight minutes doing almost nothing off of his back, waiting for the Czech grinder to tire out before ultimately taking top position and obliterating him with punches.
This gamble doesn’t always pay off, though. He spent most of the last 10 minutes of his fight with Roy Nelson offering no offense and only barely made up for that with a cataclysmic overhand right in the waning seconds.
UFC's heavyweight division is one of the most top-heavy in the organization. There’s a sheer cliff from which the likes of Stipe Miocic, Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez overlook the remainder. These men do not tire like other heavyweights and neither do the Josh Barnetts and Ben Rothwells just below the peak.
Lewis still sits at the base of that cliff as part of an anemic vanguard of up-and-comers. With Ruslan Magomedov at the mercy of United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and Vitaly Minakov still tied up in contracts, he finds himself with a golden opportunity to rise.
If last night was any indication, he has a lot of ground to cover if he wants to catch that opportunity before it vanishes.
Against Abdurakhimov, Lewis again proved that his strategy works against the sort of heavyweights you don’t hinge a major card on for fear of them running on empty. To be the next face of the heavyweight division, especially with the colossus that is Ngannou competing with him for that title, he needed more.