Derrick Lewis, often referred to as “The Black Beast”, is a phenomenon in the heavyweight division. Due to his build, personality, and style, he is often counted out but in actuality, the Texas native has one of the most impressive resumes in the division’s history. A self-admitted ‘street fighter,’ Lewis has described himself as lacking technique on multiple occasions. He has joked about his own cardio and explained this flaw as simply due to him not enjoying running.
On multiple occasions, Lewis has had to cut to the heavyweight limit and carries some excess fat around the waist. He has won multiple fights leaning on his heavy right hand after being outscored for the majority of the bout. The image he projects of himself is not exactly that of the most professional or skillful of fighters.
However, forgetting the subjective judgments, Derrick Lewis on paper tells a largely contrasting story. With a record of 25-7, he has accumulated the most knockouts ever in UFC heavyweight history, a division known for them. Along the way, he has also been granted awards for fight of the night thrice and performance of the night four times.
Maybe most impressively, however, is a fact flying under the radar to most fans due to his misleading persona. As of right now in August of 2021, he has not lost to any heavyweights on the current roster and assuming he is victorious this week at UFC 265, he will have beaten exactly half of the top 15 and all of the top 6 excluding recently dethroned champ Stipe Miocic.
But what is it that makes Derrick Lewis so misleadingly successful?
Combat strategy can be broken into two categories, looking for consistent dominance and investing for the big moment. Most of the best fighters in MMA history are the former, they look to win every moment of the fight they can, securing a victory on points and hope that their dominance leads to a finish beforehand. The latter, Derrick Lewis puts all his chips onto his greatest strength: his power right hand.
Not the most technical, not the most agile, you won’t see Lewis try to outbox the best strikers or out grapple the best grapplers, but what he knows he has, is the ability to put anyone out cold at any time. He will invest in techniques that push his opponents onto the line of his right hand, for example, left hooks and left roundhouse kicks. By doing so he draws out the slip left from his opponents. He will also circle and pressure right to force his opponent’s footwork to lead into his power shot as well.
One of the biggest criticisms of Lewis is that he is terrible at hiding pain. Most fighters have to put on a game face when the going gets rough, and work to not allow their opponents to see weakness. Lewis, will grimace, double over and drop his hands when he is hurt or tired and makes it extremely obvious when he is no longer enjoying the match. However, this is a double-edged sword. By doing so he can invite his opponent to look for the finish, but he also uses this to make his opponents overzealous.
Against Junior Dos Santos, Lewis was being handily beaten, and finally broke down to the body he doubled over in pain, but as Dos Santos dropped his guard and came in for the kill, Lewis swung his heaviest shot of the fight. Against Alexander Volkov, Lewis was noticeably fatigued, walking backward and a deteriorated version of his usual aggressive self. However, because of this, Volkov got too comfortable moving forward, allowing Lewis to explode at the correct moment and clip him on the chin. In this sense, Lewis both invests in moves like his left hook and kick which he knows won’t be enough to win rounds, but he is gambling that their use will lead to a clean KO with his right hand. In the same sense, by showing when he is visibly losing steam it costs him but he uses it in the hope to land this same trump card.
That being said, it is not that he “fakes” being hurt or tired. The same weaknesses he shows to his opponents have both won him fights and lost him fights. He has gassed numerous times in the past but has demonstrated an ability to improve on his cardio in recent outings. He is also absolutely susceptible to body shots, his use of power boxing often sees him wind up high with his hands, rarely with the elbows tucked. This leads to an opening to the body, which is also an area where he may be less durable.
In terms of grappling, he is very much an anti-wrestler, he has heavy hips and a powerful base and has more than once used immense strength to get him out of bottom positions, making up for a lack of technique with size. In terms of initial takedown defense, he is very good at using his weight to balance out and stuff the takedown, but this is accentuated with the threat of the uppercut. He is very good at making sure that wrestlers cannot get onto a shot comfortably, having to wade through strikes to do so before meeting his hip defense.
However, where he has shown a weakness in the past has been against body lock takedowns. Where he has been able to use his base to sprawl leg shots, those like Daniel Cormier and Aleksei Oleinik have found success wrapping up the body so as to secure control before even hitting the mat.
Ultimately Derrick Lewis is a difficult fighter to bet on. On paper, he has all the success in the world, but in application he gambles in every fight. If he is unable to land the right hand his chances of victory plummet but it is also a wager backed by a rare power that has cashed out more than not. Between this and his unique persona, Derrick Lewis is one of the most loved and captivating characters to ever grace the UFC octagon.
Order UFC 265 PPV on ESPN+ now to watch Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane and all other main card fights this Saturday.