#FightNight102 headliner Derrick Lewis hits hard. Not like "your average heavyweight swinging for the fences" hard, but more like "a fully-loaded city bus skidding down an icy Montreal street" hard. If #ConorMcGregor can repeatedly boast about his ability to rearrange the facial structure of his opponents, then Lewis should very well be able to start touting his potential to genetically alter the DNA of any man who dares face him with a single punch.
But, therein lies the problem, to a degree. In a division of the sport that regularly sees 265-pound men attempt to behead one another with only four ounces of padded leather to soften the blow, developing a reputation as a "heavy hitter" isn't exactly achieving a rare feat -- more like falling out of a canoe and hitting water, really. In fact, every one of the top 10 ranked heavyweights in the division could be described as such, having scored over twice as many TKO victories (60) inside the Octagon as they have submissions and decision wins combined (25).
Currently riding a four fight win streak that includes three TKO wins, the 10th-ranked Lewis seems as confident in his power as ever, to the point that he just might be looking past his upcoming opponent, Dagestani grappler Shamil Abdurakhimov.
After seeing an eight-week training camp for Marcin Tybura go to waste when the UFC's trip to the Philippines was cancelled (erm..."postponed") back in October, Lewis was hoping to receive a top-10 ranked opponent as some moderate form of compensation, having scored a decision victory over Roy Nelson's adamantium chin in his last performance. When he received the call for Abdurakhimov, Lewis admitted that he wasn't exactly struck with inspiration.
"I was really expecting like a Travis Browne or Mark Hunt – one of the top 10 guys,” Lewis told MMAjunkie. “Whenever they gave me this guy right here, I didn’t know what to say."
At the beginning of the camp, I really didn’t take it serious. I didn’t train as hard as I was supposed to because I had just finished training a few weeks before, real hard. But this last month, I really picked it up and really took this guy serious. It really hit me that, ‘You’re the main event in the UFC – a lot of eyes on you. A lot of people don’t believe that you should be main event in the UFC.’ I think I’ve got a lot to prove.
Well, on that we agree, Mr. Beast (Mr. Black Beast?). When Derrick Lewis steps into the cage against Abdurakhimov tomorrow night, he'll be fighting with the added burden that has faced countless fighters of his form before him: the plight of the power-puncher, I like to call it.
Even in a division that lives up to the "one punch can change everything" motto more than any other, it would be hard to deny that a certain glass ceiling has always existed for hard-hitting, brawler types like Lewis. Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic ... these are all guys who from very specific combat sports backgrounds -- be it NCAA wrestling or Golden Glove boxing -- and added power to their repertoire before they truly became successful. Even Fabricio Werdum -- one of the (if not THE) most decorated jiu jitsu practitioners in the game was never in the UFC title hunt until he rounded out his striking skills with Rafael Cordeiro.
In that way, Lewis' performance against Nelson could either have been looked at as a passing of the torch or a preview of what's to come. Like Lewis, Nelson has always been a guy known for his power over all else -- there's something about a decorated ground game mixed in there somewhere, but I'll be damned if anyone's ever seen him use it -- relying, on big, one-shot opportunities to end fights, which is all fine and well if you're looking to collect as many Performance of the Night bonuses as possible, but it's also possibly the biggest factor that has always held Nelson back from being a championship-level fighter (well, that and his somewhat abrasive attitude towards authority).
This isn't meant as a criticism of Lewis in any way -- the man's riding the longest winning streak in the division, so he's obviously doing something right -- but rather, as a reminder of what to look out for when he faces off against Abdurakhimov. The Dagestani is the type of pressure-heavy grappler that many would dub a "grinder" for lack of a better (or harsher) word, and Lewis didn't exactly demonstrate a bulletproof takedown or cardio game against Nelson in July ("Big Country" actually scored a career high seven takedowns in the fight).
Should "The Black Beast" defeat Abdurakhimov, however, he has already stated his desire to face either Mark Hunt or Travis Browne -- two guys who, go figure, are also oft-described as heavy hitters -- in his next bout. I pray for the referee that is charged with getting between those two.
Complete UFC Albany Fight Card:
- Derrick Lewis (16-4, 1NC) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (17-3)
- Francis Ngannou (8-1) vs. Anthony Hamilton (15-5)
- Corey Anderson (8-2) vs. Sean O’Connell (17-8)
- Justine Kish (5-0) vs. Ashley Yoder (5-1)
- Randy Brown (8-1) vs. Brian Camozzi (7-2)
- Joe Gigliotti (7-1) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (24-8)
- Andrew Sanchez (8-2) vs. Trevor Smith (14-6)
- Tiago Trator (20-5-2) vs. Shane Burgos (7-0)
- Frankie Perez (10-2) vs. Marc Diakiese (10-0)
- Keith Berish (5-0, 1NC) vs. Ryan Janes (8-1)
- Juliana Lima (8-3) vs. J.J. Aldrich (4-1)