Heavy hitter, Derrick Lewis, will square off with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Junior dos Santos, this Saturday (March 9, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 146 from inside Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.
It’s not hard to understand why Lewis is something of a fan favorite. “The Black Beast” will admit himself that he lacks the skill and finesse of most of his opponents, but he makes up for it with both crushing knockout power and a deep faith that he’ll pull through even the toughest fight. Power and the will to trust in it saw Lewis go on an unlikely win streak into the top five and earn a title shot, but unfortunately Daniel Cormier’s incredible wrestling gave Lewis few opportunities to land a fight-changing blow.
Now, Lewis heads back to the drawing board opposite a former champion. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set.
Originally looking to get into combat sports as a boxer, some of that skill does carry into the Octagon. Nobody watching him fight is likely to compare him to Floyd Mayweather, but Lewis can put together powerful combinations of reasonably fast punches better than the average Heavyweight.
Lewis has a clear strategy. At first, 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. Suddenly, Lewis charges forward with surprising speed, usually with a charging high kick or jumping switch kick. When the 265-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 another example, Lewis landed running step knees into the large gut of Roy Nelson. In the ultimate nothing fight between Lewis and Francis Ngannou, Lewis’ random kicks won him the decision.
Outside of the sudden distance kicks, 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).
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.
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 more than 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 takedown. 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.
Lewis doesn’t do jiu-jitsu, he stands back up.
To stand back up, Lewis needs one of two things. First and foremost, if he’s able to gain an underhook, Lewis will bide his time before standing up and lifting his foe with the underhook. His opponent could conceivably attempt to snatch up his neck in the process or keep him pinned with a heavy overhook, but both are difficult against such a big man.
Alternatively, Lewis will look to stiff arm his opponent. If he can get a frame on his opponent’s arm pit, it’s easy for Lewis to create space and get his foe’s weight off him. Lastly, Lewis’ size and build helps quite a bit. He’s a broad man with something of a belly, meaning most Heavyweights aren’t able to find an easy position to balance in mount nor wrap up a tight body triangle.
Lewis struggled mightily against an Olympic wrestler in Daniel Cormier, but Junior dos Santos is a very different man. Again, dos Santos is the more technical man. Lewis’ power, however, is a great equalizer, and “JDS” has never been a defensive marvel either.
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.