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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 45’s Derrick Lewis

UFC Fight Night: Lewis v Browne Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Heavyweight’s leading knockout artist, Derrick Lewis, will look to return to the win column opposite hot prospect, Chris Daukaus, this Saturday (Dec. 18, 2021) at UFC Vegas 45 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lewis can rebound from crappy losses like few others.

Sure, Ciryl Gane pretty thoroughly spanked “The Black Beast,” seldom taking a strike in his interim title victory. That type of defeat can usually haunt would-be contenders for years, but Lewis at Heavyweight? He’s more active than everybody else by a country mile, and he still holds a victory over Francis Ngannou. If Lewis hits the road running and puts together a couple wins, he’s right back in contention.

That begins with Daukaus this weekend. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

UFC 220: Kattar v Burgos

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 46 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off the New Year with a thrilling Featherweight contenders’ bout that will see No. 5-ranked Calvin Kattar take on No. 8-seeded Giga Chikadze inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Jan. 15, 2022. UFC Vegas 46’s reworked co-main event will feature a Heavyweight slobberknocker between Octagon veterans Jake Collier and Chase Sherman.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Striking

Before ever stepping into the cage, Lewis trained to box. He may not have particularly deft footwork or a jab (at all, really), but “Black Beast” has hung onto something important from that training: the ability to load up and deliver power punches, occasionally in combination.

This deep in the game, Lewis has a well-established strategy (read: he’s done the same thing in every fight for years now). 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 his feet and block, which leaves them in range for the ensuing bombs. If the kick instead knocks him off-balance, his opponent is in 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 Ngannou, Lewis’ random kicks won him the decision.

Credit to Lewis, he has proved in recent bouts that he’s willing to watch tape. Against Aleksei Oleinik, Lewis pretty much copied Walt Harris directly by opening the second round with a jump knee to the chest. As Oleinik stumbled backward, Lewis stepped into a big swing, knocking the Russian veteran down to the mat (GIF).

Against Curtis Blaydes, Lewis sold out entirely on the idea of countering Blaydes’ takedown attempts. Seriously, he threw almost nothing as Blaydes landed hard straight punches and thudding low kicks nearly at will. It seemed like a disastrous decision until Lewis perfectly timed an uppercut on the shot (GIF), becoming the first man to truly put Blaydes to sleep with strikes.

Outside of the sudden distance kicks, Lewis will burst forward in a good stance and can throw balanced 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.

Lewis’ recent loss to Gane was another example of Lewis getting shut down. He’s just not a technical striker at range or in the pocket, so when Lewis faces someone who is — like Gane, Junior dos Santos, or Alexander Volkov — he tends to spend long amounts of time just eating shots, unsure of how to respond.

That’s rarely a recipe for victory.

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 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 eventually 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 yet to work.

Once on top, Lewis is absolutely devastating. 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.

Being tired against Lewis is a worst-case scenario for UFC Heavyweights.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Lewis doesn’t do jiu-jitsu ... he just 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.

Daniel Cormier was able to control Lewis, but he did it by taking Lewis right back down as “Black Beast” stood up. Most Heavyweights do not have the wrestling skill or conditioning to continually chain takedowns and mat returns, which is why Lewis’ “just get up!” is often so effective.

Conclusion

This main event match up serves a pair of purposes. For Daukaus, it’s a well-earned jump in competition and chance to prove he’s a Top 10 threat. For “The Black Beast,” Lewis has an opportunity to get back into the win column against a non-elite threat.


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.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 45 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 45: “Lewis vs. Daukaus” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.