Derrick Lewis has got the ultimate equalizer in heavyweight mixed martial arts — no more apparent than last Saturday night. More often than not in the last few years, the New Orleans native, whether it be under the cosh in terms of the betting lines from the get-go, or as the fight played out, has been able to pull a proverbial rabbit from the hat.
Alexander Volkov at UFC 229. Shamil Abdurakhimov at UFC Fight Night Albany. Travis Browne at UFC Fight Night Halifax. And now Curtis Blaydes at UFC Vegas 19; all prime examples of Lewis uncorking a massive shot or massive shots to turn the tide of the fight in spectacular, night ending fashion.
You could argue Blaydes was looking extremely comfortable on the feet against Lewis for the majority of Saturday night’s headliner. The offensive wrestling difference maker was clear to see on the forefront of Lewis’ mind as he circled with his back almost planted to the fence on occasion.
Winging with massive misses as he attempted to counter Blaydes, Lewis managed to successfully defend a second round takedown attempt from the juco national champion — before launching his ultimate equalizer.
Attempting to close the distance and reach for Lewis’ right hip, Blaydes collided with a brutal counter uppercut as he dipped his head, before collapsing to the canvas, out cold. Unable to separate the heavyweight behemoths in rather timely fashion, referee Herb Dean has come under some fire for the stoppage, with Lewis landing two more massive ground strikes afterwards. I personally don’t believe Dean could’ve pulled off a quicker separation.
I certainly envisioned Blaydes scoring at least one successful takedown, early especially, against Lewis, however, that one-shot power is something to behold. Scary.
Below, join me as I play matchmaker for the once again overlooked Lewis, as well as the #2 ranked Blaydes, who once more falters at the precipice of a title shot against one of the biggest punchers in the history of the heavyweight division.
Derrick Lewis vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik/Ciryl Gane Winner:
If posed the question; Who should Derrick Lewis fight next? I’d imagine the majority would learn toward pairing the most prolific knockout artist in UFC history with the winner of this weekend’s UFC Vegas 20 headliner between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane.
Lewis has called for a matchup against the decorated, Alistair Overeem — a teammate of the above mentioned, Blaydes at Elevation Fight Team in Colorado. That pairing doesn’t really do a lot for Lewis right now, however. Sure, Overeem is still a massive name in heavyweight mixed martial arts, but pairing him with Lewis off the back of his one-sided knockout loss to common-foe, Alexander Volkov next seems fruitless — especially if you want to keep Lewis’ momentum white-hot. There seems to be some animosity betweent the pair, but right now, that matchup doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Knocking back the #2 ranked contender in any division should be enough to earn you a title shot, however, with Stipe Miocic already booked to matchup with Francis Ngannou at the end of March in a title rematch, and Jon Jones slated to face the winner for the undisputed crown in the summer — Lewis is unlikely to sit out and wait for a title shot till possibly the end of the year if not 2022.
Enter either Rozenstruik or Gane. The Suriname native was first to score a knockout win over former champion Junior dos Santos before Gane did in similar fashion a couple of months later, but both are in need of another victory even beyond this weekend if they want to challenge for Octagon gold for the premier time.
Ideally, Rozenstruik or Gane should square off with Lewis on the undercard of a combination of either Miocic or Ngannou vs. Jones sometime this summer.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik/Ciryl Gane Loser:
This one’s quite cut and dry as well. Blaydes entered the Octagon on Saturday night as the #2 ranked heavyweight in the world, and a loss to Lewis, no matter how devesatating shouldn’t really send him that far down the rankings. Granted, Blaydes needs to take some considerable time off before making his fourteenth walk under the UFC’s banner.
I’m picking whomever emerges on the losing side of the equation between Rozenstruik and Gane to serve as the welcoming back party for Blaydes.
He’s already suffered two stoppage losses to incoming title challenger, Ngannou, and we’re yet to see if the Cameroonian can dethrone Miocic at the second time of asking — so lets cool the jets on Blaydes fighting above his station for the timebeing. I wouldn’t, however, be opposed to Blaydes returning against Miocic if he drops the title to Ngannou next month — if the incumbent elects to continue his career, of course.
We’ll likely see Lewis drafted in as the #2 contender at heavyweight beneath Ngannou, with Blaydes assuming the #4 slot. Jones is most likely next for either Miocic or Ngannou, and if Blaydes ultimately draws Rozenstruik or French standout, Gane, the aforenoted Volkov can stand opposite the loser of next month’s title rematch as well. The division is looking as promising, stacked with contenders as it’s been in quite some time.