Veteran knockout artist, Derrick Lewis, will look to make the most of his second title shot opposite kickboxing specialist, Ciryl Gane, this Saturday (August 7, 2021) at UFC 265 inside Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
What is there to say about Lewis that has not already been said? The pillars of Lewis’ mixed martial arts (MMA) strategy involve toughness and power far more than any technique. His reliance on big right hands, jumping kicks and muscling his way out of bad positions has been the butt of jokes for literal years, yet only rarely does Lewis’ limited game actually stop him from knocking out “better” opposition.
On paper, Gane is the superior fighter in every aspect, but that hardly guarantees his victory. Let’s take a closer look at Lewis’ skill set:
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.
The man with 21 previous fights inside the Octagon has a well-established 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 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 Francis 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 Lewis’ 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.
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.
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 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.
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 so effective.
Interim or not, it would be genuinely amazing to see Lewis lift a title over his head in his home state of Texas. “The Black Beast” is a testament already to how far power and grit going at Heavyweight, but gold around the waist would be the ultimate shutdown to any complaining about his lack of technical skill.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 265 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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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.