The man with the longest active win streak in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight division, Derrick Lewis, is set to throw down with counter punching K-1 veteran, Mark Hunt, this Saturday (June 10, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 110 inside Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.
Lewis’ success has shocked a fair amount of people.
On paper, Lewis is not the most skilled nor the most conditioned athlete to compete inside the Octagon. He doesn’t come from a particularly extensive boxing background or have medals in some form of grappling. Lewis was even stopped in two of his first five UFC fights. Nonetheless, he’s now won six straight, mostly via knockout, and is headlining his third straight event.
Like it or not, Lewis is closing in on a title shot. Aside from his natural power and heart, Lewis has some skills that have carried him this far, so let’s take a closer look at “Black Beast.”
Lewis began his journey into mixed martial arts (MMA) as a boxer, but he never actually competed even as an amateur. Nonetheless, putting together powerful and reasonably fast combinations is one of his strong suits, so that skill does occasionally shine through.
Lewis generally remains on the outside until he’s ready to explode. From that range, Lewis waits for his moment, usually far enough away to avoid any big shots from his opponent. Then, Lewis will burst forward in a good stance and can throw technical punches and combinations. On the offensive, he’s able to string together powerful punches, which makes him rather dangerous (GIF).
One of Lewis’ best surprises is his ability to mix a random high kick into this attack. It’s a little iffy as to whether he’ll actually set it up with punches, but that doesn’t really matter. When the 260+ pound "Black Beast" slams his whole leg into his opponent, it makes an impact. Plus, the result of that kick is that his opponent must plant their feet and block, which leaves them in range for the ensuing bombs. If the kick instead knocks them off-balance, his opponent is poor position to trade shots with Lewis.
In Lewis’ bout with Roy Nelson, he expanded on this habit. Multiple times, Lewis barreled forward with a hard step knee into Nelson’s mid-section. At one point, he even threw a switch high kick and followed up with an immediate regular high kick.
Often, Lewis punches himself into the clinch, where he can dirty box. That’s something that Lewis does quite well, as he’ll work the body and head with big hooks. He often will use his left hand to frame/grab his opponent’s arm or head, using that arm to control and set up the big right hand. Lastly, in his bout with Nelson, Lewis commonly went to the double-collar tie and knees to the body, a technique proven to work opposite “Big Country.”
The counter right hand is another preferred technique of Lewis. When his opponent tries to throw a right hand, Lewis will throw at the same time while ducking his head off the center-line. If timed well, Lewis lands his power shot while his opponent leans forward, which has real potential to end the bout.
Finally, Lewis can definitely hold his own in a brawl. If things get ugly, Lewis can bite down on his mouthpiece and trade hard shots. Even when tired, Lewis is able to generate a ton of power (GIF).
Despite his ferocious punching power, Lewis is definitely willing to look for takedowns of his own. They’re rarely all that technical, but Lewis is certainly strong enough to finish a shot if he’s able to get into decent position.
Lewis gains top position in several situations. On occasion, he’ll look to catch a kick and throw his man off-balance. Alternatively, Lewis will change levels against the fence and look to lift his foe with a double leg. Most commonly, he reverses his opponent’s takedown attempts. Few men with wrestling backgrounds are willing to stand and trade with "Black Beast," meaning they try to immediately drop for takedowns.
In this week’s technique highlight, I explain how and why Lewis is able to reverse takedowns (and often finish the fight not long after).
Once on top, Lewis is absolutely devastating (GIF). He dives into guard with huge punches, will stack his opponent to strike, and has passed into mount to finish as well. It’s the absolute worst position to be in opposite the Texan, whose size pins his opponent to the mat and leaves them unable to avoid his heavy hands. Scrambling out from underneath him seems nearly impossible and definitely exhausting, meaning his tired foe isn’t likely to escape the onslaught.
Another of Lewis’ wrestling techniques that is often talked about is his ability to stand back up from the bottom. After waiting and gathering some energy, Lewis will turn his back and simply look to stand up. His opponent could try to take the back, but usually their jiu-jitsu inexperience and Lewis’ size makes that a poor option. Instead, they try to hang on from the clinch, where Lewis’ strength and defense is reasonably solid. Additionally, “Black Beast” has found success by stiff arming his opponent off him, posting in the arm pit to create enough space to turn his back and stand.
Shooting for takedowns only to have an opponent stand back up is exhausting. Before long, Lewis is more easily able to deny takedowns. Once that happens, his opponent is in a terrible spot. Because of fatigue, he can no longer easily land takedowns and standing with Lewis while gassed is a recipe for getting flattened.
Lewis has never found a need for submissions — the fight is over via violence once he gets on top. At the same time, Lewis has never really been threatened by a submission, as Lewis uses the aforementioned underhook and stiff arm to simply shake off his man after building up some energy.
Heavyweight jiu-jitsu is weird.
This bout pits Lewis opposite the best striker he has ever faced. Few men at Heavyweight strike with the intelligence of Mark Hunt, and he’s perhaps the heaviest hitter of the lot. Most of the men Lewis has been taking out have been grapplers or sloppy strikers, so this is a new challenge for him and should show whether he’s ready for the division’s absolute best.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.