The UFC’s heavyweight division has a budding star in Derrick Lewis.
Dubbed “The Black Beast,” Lewis scored the biggest win his UFC run at the promotion’s event in Halifax on Feb. 19 after he finished former rising star Travis Browne in the second round of their fight.
After eating some leg kicks – including the one in his gut he referred to as a “boo-boo” – Lewis started landing counterpunches. Browne hit some knees and had Lewis in trouble but the Beast withstood the attack and unleashed several blows until he got his opponent on the canvas – some complained about the late stoppage by the referee. Lewis also made headlines regarding his post-fight interview, bringing up Browne’s domestic violence allegations – which he was cleared of – and his current girlfriend Ronda Rousey, as well as his sex life.
Putting aside the entertaining interview, the win over Browne is the sixth in a strong winning streak and in the span of one night, Lewis – whose UFC career began in 2014 after a stint as the Legacy FC heavyweight champion – solidified his status as one of the top athletes in the weight class, or at the very least qualified for a top-5 opponent.
But some argue that Lewis shouldn’t be in this position, because he is a one-dimensional fighter, including MMA Junkie columnist Ben Fowlkes. I sometimes think MMA pundits believe that fighters need to have certain prerequisites – mainly a strong grappling background with a side dish of striking – to be successful in the cage.
I don’t disagree with that notion. I think being a well-rounded athlete is valuable in this day and age, especially in the heavyweight division. While fighters in the weight class could mostly rely on specializing in a primary skill set, athletes like former heavyweight champions Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum are good strikers and have some serious ground game.
Having said that, Lewis has demonstrated that he has the heart that recover from most situations and capitalize on fighter’s mistakes. His striking isn’t the most graceful, but he’s got 16 knockouts on his record that proves he can get the job done. The nice thing about mixed martial arts is fighters can train in different skills to evolve their game.
The biggest takeaway from Lewis’ win over Browne is that fans like him. Part of that can be attributed to his microphone skills. Another factor is that he’s more relatable to fans.
Derrick Lewis is my favorite fighter!
— Anthony Johnson (@Anthony_Rumble) February 20, 2017
Like many notable fighters, Lewis grew up in humble beginnings. In a 2016 interview, Lewis, the second-oldest of seven siblings, and his family relocated to Texas because his mother was in an abusive relationship – something that fans can relate to. It also explains why he reveled in beating Browne.
Lewis comes across as genuine and what you see is what you get, kind of like the Diaz brothers.
With this latest win, Lewis will no doubt face a tougher opponent in his next fight. There’s a chance he could stand across the octagon against the likes of Werdum, Velasquez and Junior dos Santos and he’ll probably lose – or he should lose if you believe the experts.
But sports is a funny thing and as color commentator Joe Rogan likes to say, “anything can happen in MMA.” Lewis could transform into a star before our very eyes.