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Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis: A last-minute preview of the UFC 230 main event

Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis: A last-minute preview of the UFC 230 main event

Derrick Lewis poses during a ceremonial weigh-in for UFC 229

Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis is a matchup made of circumstances.

Lewis is 9-1 in his last ten fights in a heavyweight division that has been depleted of superstars and super talent, aside from Miocic’s reign, for the last few years. However, that was until Cormier threw his name into the hat of heavyweight contenders, after running through the light-heavyweight division, albeit in the wake of Jon Jones personal meltdowns.

With his last win, Derrick Lewis made what was arguably the best fight on the UFC 229 card, with his last-minute KO of Alexander Volkov. A fight that he was winning decisively, Lewis landed a right hand of doom flush on Volkov’s chin that ultimately spelled the end of the fight, with a few more bombs landed for good measure.

To put that fight in perspective, it was a surprise to most viewers just how emphatically the fight was finished, considering the two and a half rounds of dominance by Alexander Volkov. With the most buys in PPV history, a record audience witnessed Lewis’s awe-inspiring power and athleticism in one fell swoop.

What was even more of a delight was his post-fight interview. “My balls was hot,” will now forever live in UFC and MMA infamy, as it catapulted Lewis into title conversation. Combine this with Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones uncertain return, Cormier’s public retirement announcement timeline, and UFC 230’s lack of stars, Lewis vs. Cormier was the fight to make.

Cormier, however, cemented himself alongside Jon Jones as the greatest MMA fighter of all time with his TKO of Stipe Miocic in mid-2018, while becoming the “champ champ.”

Miocic had just silenced the most hyped UFC heavyweight fighter in recent memory, Francis Ngannou, with a dominant unanimous decision victory and held the record for most heavyweight title defenses, consecutively, in UFC history. Just as Miocic began to get a publicity push from the UFC, Cormier dirty boxed that promotion to smithereens inside of the first round.

With all of this in mind, we come to Cormier vs. Lewis, a fight of circumstances.

Lewis does not seem to present the array of obstacles that Jones, Miocic, Gustafsson, or even “Rumble” Johnson have presented for Cormier in the past, but it is still an intriguing matchup nonetheless.

The Matchup

Before we jump into the obvious, there are two factors play an interesting role in this matchup.

First, Lewis’s athleticism and power play a similar role that Anthony Johnson’s power played in his matchup with Daniel Cormier. In Cormier’s last two fights with Jones and Miocic, we’ve seen a fighter who is willing to stand and trade in the center of the octagon, while taking his own shots. The former took advantage of this, with a head kick, as Cormier retreated from the clinch. The latter, while landing his powerful shots, could not find the closing blow.

Even Johnson was able to land his strikes, one that put Cormier’s butt on the canvas, before Cormier eventually took over on the ground. However, the true difference that plays a part in this fight, unlike Johnson, is Lewis’s size. Only standing at 6’3, Lewis’s weight at 265 is the definitive difference. That size and strength could play a factor early when Cormier looks to clinch and dirty box on the feet, before looking for his own takedowns. If Lewis is clever, he can look to use that weight against Cormier to slow the pace down to a tempo that he can competitively fight at.

Now the obvious. Cormier’s Olympic level wrestling and cardio is the decisive factor between the two fighters in this matchup. Lewis has been seen on multiple occasions to fade after the first two rounds and admitted he had such an issue after his fight with Alexander Volkov. In June of 2017, Lewis again lost steam to a middling Mark Hunt. The fight saw Lewis lose by TKO, to a heavyweight who for better or worse, is a top 10 fighter at best. Couple that with the fact that before the Volkov fight, Lewis squeaked out a win versus Francis Ngannou, a contest that made UFC history for all the wrong reasons. A title-eliminator fight, Lewis vs. Ngannou broke UFC history for the least strikes thrown in a UFC contest gave neither man a shot at the UFC belt.

If Lewis expects to win, he must land early and land hard to test a usually granite chin of Cormier, aside from Jones head kick and “Rumbles” hands of stone. With only a month of preparation, it is safe to say Lewis’s cardio has not advanced by leaps and bounds. While Lewis will want to land effectively, it may serve him better to choose those power shots early on to conserve his gas tank for later rounds.

Cormier, however, will need to do precisely what he did against Miocic, with slightly more caution. Press the pace, shorten the distance, dirty box, and look to work for takedowns. If an opportunity for a big punch presents itself, take it, or if nothing is there, consider it a win in depleting Lewis’s endurance. If Cormier gains confidence as he did against Miocic or even Jones in their second fight and decides to let loose with his striking, he runs the risk of allowing Lewis to shut out the lights.

Lewis again will have to rely on his power and size to use against Cormier in both striking and grappling. While his weaknesses are much more apparent then Cormier’s, you can never count Lewis out of a fight. His cardio and technique will eventually be thrown out of the window during the fight, but given his heart in prior battles, he will always remain dangerous.

Prediction

Both men will start slow in the first two rounds. As Cormier has mentioned in past interviews, he is wary of Lewis’s power and knows that he is most dangerous in the beginning rounds. Lewis, on the other hand, will be wary of his cardio and look to pace himself to gear up for a 5-round war. However, Lewis will find his moments early landing crisp strikes to the polished dome of Cormier and keep audiences on the edge of their seat, but those moments will be merely a spark.

By late round one or the beginning of round two, Cormier will begin pushing the pace with his excellent clinch work, dirty boxing, and Olympic level wrestling. Cormier’s outlandish pace will start to slow Lewis down, and thus, Lewis will leave himself open for strikes and takedowns without much resistance. Cormier will begin dictating the tempo and location of the fight, slowly churning away at Lewis’s explosive ability.

The third round will tell the same story, as Lewis will become a bit desperate to start winning his own battles, but again, will leave himself wide open for a classic Cormier slam. After a few minutes on the ground, Cormier will take Lewis’s back and sink in the rear naked choke, a la “Rumble” Johnson, and successfully defend his heavyweight crown, setting up a retirement and trilogy fight with the public enigma that is Jon Jones.

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