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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 230’s Derrick Lewis

The insanely heavy-handed, Derrick Lewis, will square off with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) double-champ, Daniel Cormier, this Saturday (Nov. 3, 2018) at UFC 230 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

I already know the jokes and comments that will be in the comments section, some combination of words and phrases like “get tired,” “right hand,” and almost certainly “swang-and-bang.” Also, there will be most likely be a question on whether there is really a need to analyze Lewis’ skill set. There’s truth to all that. Lewis’ game is remarkably simple. But, it does work with great consistency, and for that reason, it’s interesting to look into.

Let’s analyze the skill set of “The Black Beast:”

Striking

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 in short bursts (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. Similarly, in the ultimate nothing fight between Lewis and Francis Ngannou, Lewis’ random kicks won him the decision.

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. Above all else, Lewis’ ability to generate a ton of power while completely fatigued is legendary.

Wrestling

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. As a result, their shots get sloppy with fatigue, allowing Lewis to dig an underhook and force opponents to their back.

Lately, Lewis has been looking for a unique takedown, one he attempted multiple times opposite Volkov. Throwing his right hand forward and stepping his right leg ideally behind his opponent’s lead leg, Lewis hopes to knock his opponent off-balance and cause them to trip over his leg.

It has not worked at all and should probably be abandoned.

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.

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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Lewis doesn’t do jiu-jitsu, he stands back up. In this week’s technique highlight, we talk about the mechanics of “just standing back up” and why it works for Lewis.

Conclusion

Lewis keeps things simple, doing almost nothing for long periods of time. He often spends long portions of the fight simply eating shots or laying on his back. However, in those 20-30 seconds where Lewis bites down and throws hard, he is dangerous to anyone in the world, including Daniel Cormier.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.