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UFC 247: Jones v Reyes Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 15’s Derrick Lewis

*** UPDATE: Curtis Blaydes has tested positive for COVID-19 and his fight against Derrick Lewis has been postponed. Read more. ***

Heavy-handed “Black Beast,” Derrick Lewis, will look to turn away wrestling specialist, Curtis Blaydes, this Saturday (Nov. 28, 2020) at UFC Vegas 15 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Lewis has battled two issues inside the Octagon as much as any opponent: injury and weight, which are directly related to one another. Fortunately, Lewis appears to have finally leaned out a bit — as he’s promised to many times over the year — which has helped him score a trio of victories. So, Lewis is in a bit better shape now (hopefully for good). However, the man himself remains unchanged, as “Black Beast” stalks opponents until they fatigue, just waiting for his moment to pounce with ridiculously powerful punches.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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.

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.

UFC Fight Night: Nelson v Lewis Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

Credit to Lewis, he showed in his last bout 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).

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.”

UFC Fight Night: Lewis v Oleinik Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

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.

It’s worth repeating that Lewis is not a technical striker. Men like Alexander Volkov and Junior dos Santos largely dominated Lewis by keeping him on his back foot with range strikes. If he’s unable to close the distance and his wild kicks don’t back his opponent off, Lewis tends to struggle mightily.

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

UFC 229: Lewis v Volkov Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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.

UFC 230 Cormier v Lewis Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

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 so effective.

Conclusion

Lewis is a simple enough fighter to understand, but Heavyweights do not have to be complicated. Curtis Blaydes presents a familiar threat to Lewis: a large wrestler looking to hold him down. He’ll likely succeed early, but if Lewis survives without getting blasted by elbows or submitted, this fight may get very interesting in the championship rounds.

“The Black Beast” feasts on tired wrestlers.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 15 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 15: “Blaydes vs. Lewis” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


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.

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