November 2, 2018

UFC 230: The Curious Case of Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis

By John Jordan

The current heavyweight picture is a perplexing one, and provides the context for what many consider to be a curious main event at UFC 230. The journey to Daniel Cormier’s first heavyweight title defence against “The Black Beast” Derrick Lewis has been a rocky one that began as far back as UFC 220. Former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic derailed the Francis Ngannou hype train in impressive fashion, securing his position in the record books with the highest number of heavyweight title defences. On the same night, Cormier cemented his position at the top of the light heavyweight division, stopping the dangerous knockout artist Volkan Oezdemir. With both champions clearing out their respective divisions and with no obvious contenders on the horizon, this created the perfect conditions for a superfight.

Cormier needed only one round to end Stipe’s record-breaking reign over the division, scoring a devastating knockout. But although Cormier’s knockout was emphatic, it was his post-fight WWE-style shoving match with Brock Lesnar that stole the headlines and left all watching with no doubt that Lesnar was back and would challenge for the heavyweight strap. Yet the real story, it seems, was lurking in the co-main event -- Derrick Lewis. Looking back, it seems the stage was being set for Cormier and Lewis to face off as early as the UFC 226 pre-fight presser, when Cormier joked that Lewis had told him backstage that he was much smaller than everyone else and that he would knock Cormier out.. DC delighted in calling Lewis out on this in front of the world’s media, asking what his issue with him was, with Lewis responding in typically comedic fashion, “He disrespected that Popeye’s chicken on the commercial a few years ago.”

So how does a man who is perhaps better known for his entertaining comments, infamous post-fight speeches, and exploits on Instagram, rather than his fighting skills, get at shot becoming the baddest man on the planet? His last minute knockout of Alexander Volkov certainly helped, propelling him not only to a title shot but also into the fans’ consciousness. However, his previous fight against Ngannou was unimpressive, collecting the unwanted accolade of second-fewest significant strikes thrown in a fight (which Lewis attributed to a back injury). And let's not forget that he took a beating for much of the fight against Volkov before scoring the knockout. The consensus within the media was that there were more legitimate and deserving opponents for Cormier. Many believed he and Miocic should run it back -- or at least they they did until Jon Jones was cleared by USADA; at that point, speculation was rife that we would see the trilogy fight between the two at heavyweight.

An MSG card demands a main event that matches the venue’s magnitude, so why not Cormier-Jones III? Why not the Stipe rematch? Both huge fights, both worthy of the main event slot. Well the reasons are less curious than they might seem. Lewis is marketable, and marketable is what the UFC needs right now as it struggles to fill the void left by Conor McGregor’s uncertain future. Lewis is a man of the people, the UFC’s answer to Rocky. He has a puncher’s chance, and people will buy pay-per-views to see if he can land the big right hand and do the unthinkable. However, despite narratives building to the contrary, no one really expects Lewis to win.

With the promotion's other attempts to secure a big time main event having fallen through, the UFC is saving the MSG card and capitalising on a marketing opportunity at the same time -- a smart way to solve a pretty big problem. But what if Lewis does win? What if the Rocky narrative plays out? Then the heavyweight picture becomes even more distorted. There are contenders, but is there really an appetite for a second Lewis vs. Ngannou fight? Even Lewis vs. Lesnar seems less compelling than Cormier taking on Lesnar, or a potential superfight between Cormier and Jones (if he defeats Alexander Gustafsson). However, this seems to be a risk the UFC is willing to take.

UFC 230
Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis (UFC Heavyweight Championship)

UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis takes place November 3, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.

Click HERE for more UFC 230 Pre-Fight Analysis

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