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Preview: UFC 230, the number of the ‘Beast’

Daniel Cormier is waltzing in on what I think we would all agree is relatively short notice to make his first heavyweight title defense, a titanic tilt that we would also all agree comes against a grotesquely outmatched opponent in Derrick Lewis.

If you’re giving Derrick Lewis anything more than a puncher’s chance, then I don’t think you’ve been paying attention in recent years, as Cormier (21-1, 1 NC) is not just the best heavyweight on the planet, he’s also the second-best light heavyweight.

Lewis, by contrast, is at his best outside the cage, highlighted by X-rated jokes and Did he just say that? moments. If the Popeye’s-endorsed power puncher can make you laugh, or in many cases cringe, then you won’t realize he was smoked by Mark Hunt roughly one year back, a performance not unlike his knockout losses to Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione.

Forget the Francis Ngannou snoozer, did anyone stay awake for his 2016 win over Shamil Abdurakhimov?

While he’s agile for a big man, Lewis punches and kicks like a heavyweight and there are speed limits in this weight class. Faced with a faster foe, or perhaps one with a gas tank bigger than a Briggs & Stratton push mower and “The Black Beast” is ... well, fucked.

They don’t get much faster or better conditioned than Cormier. Just ask Stipe Miocic, the former baddest man on the planet, who thought he could hang out in the phone booth and not get disconnected. Though to be fair, it helps when you’re only 5’2” and don't have to clomp around the cage with all that extra height.

None of that really matters when the cage door closes in the UFC 230 pay-per-view (PPV) main event, which takes place this Saturday night (Nov. 3, 2018) inside Madison Square Garden in New York City. Not because the bout is likely to be one sided (it is), or filled with “oohs” and “ahhs” every time Lewis (21-5, 1 NC) swings for the fences (it will), but rather because the fight doesn’t matter.

I think that’s what a lot of fans don’t realize about this sport prize fighting.

Imagine if mixed martial arts (MMA) had to live and die solely on the entertainment value of its fights? Most contests are comprised of 15 minutes of bobbing and weaving, or mugging and slugging, interspersed with the occasional firefight.

The fighters are what make the fights dramatic, which is why so many outstanding performances on the UFC undercards are overlooked, underappreicated, or just flat-out ignored. How many times have you gone to a live event, only to see it fill up before the start of the main card?

I would argue that from a competitive standpoint, the ill-fated Valentina Shevchenko vs. Sijara Eubanks title fight that was originally attached to the UFC 230 main event, would not have looked much different than what we’ll get with Cormier-Lewis.

A superior athlete taking apart a battle-hardened bruiser.

But fight fans didn't want Eubanks because nobody knows who she is, including longtime UFC color commentator Joe Rogan. Lewis, on the other hand, is fairly well known and it’s not because he airmailed Alexander Volkov back to Russia at UFC 229 (though it certainly helped). He’s an entertainer first and a fighter second.

“Derrick Lewis is cooler than me,” Eubanks told MMA Junkie. “I know they gotta make their money, I know they gotta sell their tickets.”

Why don’t fights matter?

The results do, of course, and the occasional “Fight of the Night” can feel like a satisfying conclusion to a good book, but there is only so much you can do in a 15-minute fight, which is why today's athletes are so busy on social media. Branding is important to an industry that pays peanuts and sponsors love online influence, at least for the time being, because they've been convinced that influence can be monetized by way of clicks.

The jury is still out on that one, but that’s a discussion for a different industry.

Rogan recently reminded fans that Lewis has MMA’s funniest Instagram account (and he may be right). That’s not by accident. The best way to get to the promised land is to have the fans carry you and this demographic loves to laugh at hot balls, fine asses, and ignorant white folks.

Demetrious Johnson is the most accomplished flyweight in the history of UFC and MMA and perhaps one of the greatest all-around fighters to ever compete. But he was also a clock puncher, who showed up for his fight, did his job, and went home, where he remained safely nestled in a cocoon of obscurity. It’s likely that, and not his tiny stature, responsible for his uncanny ability to sink every PPV ship like a ratings iceberg.

Blaming size suggests Conor McGregor would be a bust at 125 pounds.

Lewis was awarded the UFC 230 main event because he deserved it, doing everything a fighter needs to do in this day and age to be successful. Like a combatant who always stays on or close to weight in case of the short-notice call up, “The Black Beast” kept himself in entertainment shape so that UFC could slot him into the big spot and not have to worry about the Who da fook is that guy? memes littering the Twitter landscape during fight week.

I wouldn’t call it a blueprint for up-and-coming fighters ... more like a schematic. And we already have enough “Notorious” copy cats (like this tool), maybe it’s time for a couple of Lewis clones. Hey, there’s plenty of booty and Hennessy to go around!

To see who else is fighting at UFC 230 click here.

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