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411 Fact or Fiction MMA: Will Derrick Lewis Become A Champion?

February 22, 2018 | Posted by Lorenzo Vasquez
Derrick Lewis

Welcome back to another edition of 411 Fact or Fiction MMA! I’m your host, Lorenzo Vasquez III. It is my pleasure to bring you Fact or Fiction MMA. Thank you, for your comments and votes last week, it is appreciated. Last week, Dino Zee and Alex Rella locked horns over subjects like Curtis Blaydes’ win over Mark Hunt, eye gouging, and Nate Diaz returning to action. Dino was motivated, to say the least. He tagged Alex, bludgeoning his face. Alex brought forth tremendous effort but could not climb the mountain that was Dino Zee. Congratulations, Dino! Thank you, both for your effort and contribution.

This week, the vile one, Jeffrey Harris, returns to make Wyatt Beougher’s life miserable. They will lock horns over the possibility of Derrick Lewis becoming a heavyweight title challenger, the UFC venturing into boxing to offset declining ratings, Will Brooks getting his walking papers, and much more! Go grab some grub and sit back because it’s time for another round of, 411 Fact or Fiction MMA!

TALE OF THE TAPE
RED CORNER
Wyatt Beougher
Host/Reviewer/Columnist, 411 MMA/TV & Movies/Wrestling Zones
3-12-1

VS

BLUE CORNER
Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris
Contributor, Various 411 Zones
3-7-5


Derrick Lewis stepped back into the winning column by beating a solid up-and-coming contender, but he does not look ready to break into the top five of the heavyweight division.

Wyatt Beougher: FACT I went back and forth on this one, as the UFC’s heavyweight division is so thin at the top at any given moment that on the right day, Lewis is definitely a top-five heavyweight. So why did I go FACT, then? Simply because looking at the fighters ranked above him, I’m not sure I’d favor Lewis in any of those fights. Stipe Miocic is on another level right now, and aside from Daniel Cormier or the unicorn that is a healthy Cain Velasquez (more on him in a minute), I don’t know who is actually going to dethrone him. And while Miocic exposed some weaknesses in Franic Ngannou’s game in his decision win over the Cameroonian fighter, I still think The Predator would get the better of the Black Beast. A fight between Lewis and Alistair Overeem would almost certainly turn into a slugfest, and I like Overeem’s superior technique to carry him through to a decision win. Next up is Fabricio Werdum, who is as difficult a prediction to make as there is in the top five, as depending on which Werdum shows up, he could either end up handily submitting Lewis or losing an unexciting decision to him. This brings us to former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, who wouldn’t even be eligible for 411’s rankings since he hasn’t fought in almost two years. I’ve gone on record before as saying that Velasquez will never be healthy enough to reclaim his UFC heavyweight crown, and while I stand by that assertion, I still think even a Cain that’s at 80% of his previous ability would be able to beat Derrick Lewis. Rounding out the top five is Curtis Blaydes, who has been on a tear of late including a win over Mark Hunt (the other guy ranked above Lewis who is outside of the top five) last weekend. While I wouldn’t rule Lewis out of that fight, especially if it turned into a purely striking contest, I think Blaydes’ wrestling background would give him the edge.

So yeah, while Cain and Hunt could retire tomorrow and make Lewis officially a top-five heavyweight, I just don’t think he’s realistically there quite yet, and the potential additions of both Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones to the heavyweight division (assuming Jones ever actually steps foot back into the cage) only further pushes Lewis down the line, as Jones is arguably the greatest fighter of this generation (and perhaps of all time) and Cormier has only ever lost to Jones.

Jeffrey Harris: FICTION The answer to that is FICTION for a very simple reason. It’s heavyweight. Heavyweight is one of the thinnest divisions in the sport right now. It’s not a talent-rich and shark infested division like say lightweight, welterweight, or even middleweight. Think about this. Derrick Lewis has a 10-3 UFC record. After his win over Marcin Tybura, he’s now No. 7 in the rankings at heavyweight. It’s not far-fetched at all that he could break into the top 5. It wasn’t like he was brutalized by Mark Hunt, who is ranked No. 6. No. 3 in the rankings is Cain Velasquez. Yes, Velasquez is a former champion, but he also hasn’t fought since July 2016. We are just a few months short of him not having stepped foot into the Octagon in two years. That means that you can basically put Lewis in the No. 6 spot by default. Maybe he doesn’t beat Francis Ngannou or Curtis Blaydes, but he definitely has the power and skills to upset either of those opponents. In short, Lewis is a fight away from being solidly in the top five of the UFC heavyweight division. Based on that and how he has a 10-3 UFC record and once went 6-0 at heavyweight, the answer is yes. He’s definitely and easily ready to break into the top five of the heavyweight division because it’s not as competitive or stacked as other divisions.


Artem Lobov is still fighting in the UFC because the UFC brass is trying to keep Conor McGregor happy for obvious reasons; and, because Lobov is on the same card as Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, they’re probably trying to enticement McGregor into getting motivated to fight the winner.

Wyatt Beougher: FICTION While I think that Lobov is almost certainly only still under contract to the UFC as a means of keeping Conor McGregor placated, I have to think that, at this point, the UFC has been disabused of the notion that they can entice McGregor into doing something that he doesn’t want to do. That’s not to say that I think McGregor won’t be motivated to fight the winner of Ferguson/Nurmagomedov, and it certainly makes sense to schedule one of his teammates for that card to ensure that McGregor is on-hand to see the fight and presumably be called out by the winner, but with no real leverage in getting McGregor back into the cage and having their every attempt to this point stymied by the mercurial Irishman, I just can’t believe the UFC brass are still naive enough to think there is anything they can do to get McGregor to step foot back inside the Octagon on anything but his own terms, which is why I went FICTION here.

Jeffrey Harris: FACT I feel like this is the only reason Artem Lobov is kept around. He’s Conor McGregor’s friend and training partner, and the UFC has obviously been very delicate with their handling of McGregor. Case in point, after McGregor shoved a referee and slapped a Bellator official, it was like crickets chirping. Dana White’s response was basically (paraphrasing), “Look. We basically don’t even know if McGregor will ever fight again.” Not to mention, the UFC still refuses to actually strip or force McGregor to relinquish the UFC lightweight title. That is even though they are declaring Nurmagomedov and Ferguson’s scheduled bout for the “real UFC lightweight” title. Artem Lobov’s fights aren’t especially impressive or action-packed, except for maybe his fight where he lost to Cub Swanson. His record is 2-4. His TUF Finale fight with Ryan Hall was awful and one of the worst TUF Finale fights in the history of the show. Lobov isn’t improving. He’s simply not UFC caliber. There are much better guys they’ve cut from the roster who deserved at least one more shot more than Lobov. I can’t think of a single other reason he’s kept around other than to appease McGregor’s ego and not upset him by getting rid of one of his friends and training partners.


Sage Northcutt’s decision win at UFC Fight Night: Austin was a close win but not so much the controversy people are making it out to be.

Wyatt Beougher: FACT I have to agree with 411’s live coverage expert Robert Winfree here – in watching the fight again, it’s pretty clear that Northcutt won the first and third rounds and Thibault Gouti won the second. I also agree with Winfree that Gouti gave it away in the third with some head-scratching decisions. He easily could’ve stolen the round if he had done anything with his takedowns other than letting Northcutt get up and then taking him down again. I come from a wrestling background, and when I scored fights while I was doing coverage for 411, I admittedly showed some bias towards wrestlers, but even I wouldn’t have given Gouti that third round based on his takedowns alone. If he had been able to keep Northcutt down and do even a little damage while they were on the canvas, then this becomes a lot more controversial of a decision, but I’m going FACT here.

Jeffrey Harris: FACT I generally agree with how Robert Winfree scored the fight. Thibault Gouti could’ve won the fight, but he didn’t exploit his openings, and he let it get away from him. I don’t think it was all that controversial. Sage Northcutt wins again, and it’s time to move on. The way people have it out for Sage Northcutt is sort of annoying. That’s the main reason why people are complaining about the decision. It wasn’t a robbery.


SWITCH!

As a Bloomberg article concluded, the UFC will venture into boxing as a lifeline because the promotion is struggling for various reasons.

Jeffrey Harris: FICTION I don’t think so. Boxing wouldn’t be the thing they should be venturing into if they are struggling. Not to mention, Bellator MMA has been venturing into kickboxing as well. No one says they are struggling because of that. I think it’s a decent way to diversify the UFC Fight Pass product. I think where UFC is struggling is trying to create new draws to fill the void left by the decline of Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey moving on to WWE, and Conor McGregor staying away from MMA. What UFC should be doing is putting more money promoting their top fighters and champions right now they do have under contract. And by that, I mean Max Holloway, Tony Ferguson, Stipe Miocic, and Demetrious Johnson. Focus more on them and their accomplishments. For example, Stipe Miocic just defended his heavyweight title for the third time. He’s the first man in UFC history to do that. Give that some more fanfare. Do some extra documentary type shows on that fight similar to the Fight Flashback shows for Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman. Do something like that for Miocic vs. Ngannou. Do something like that for Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier after it happens as well. It’s time for the UFC to look beyond the superstars who are simply big question marks for the sport right now.

Wyatt Beougher: FICTION I don’t disagree with the notion that the UFC will venture into boxing, as no less a source than Dana White himself has said it. But as for it actings a lifeline for a promotion who has seen its once-meteoric growth begin to stagnate? I just don’t see it happening. First off, let’s commend the UFC for taking the initiative to improve their fan experience and give fans more and better access to their favorite fighters, whether it be through social media, fighter summits, press conferences, or any of the other promotions that they’ve put together with the express purpose of making the entire MMA experience more interactive for fans. That’s an excellent strategy to take a casual fan and grow their loyalty, as, even if they aren’t motivated to delve further into the more cerebral aspects of the sport (rules/regulations, game plans, the different disciplines and how they stack up with one another), just getting fans emotionally invested in certain fighters goes a long way towards ensuring that they remain loyal.

That said, let’s look at the reasons (in my mind, at least) why the UFC is struggling to maintain their growth and draw in new fans. For all of the talk about the UFC becoming a legitimate sporting league like the NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB, their figurehead is still a bombastic loudmouth who tends to rub the average non-MMA fan the wrong way. For all of the supposed revitalizations of their production over the past few years, there’s really not all that much difference between a UFC event in 2018 and one in 2008. As the Bloomberg article points out, the UFC’s demographic is skewing consistently older, and they struggle to attract new, younger fans, and starting every event with a nu-metal song (a genre that was becoming passe a decade and a half ago) certainly isn’t going to win them fans at the lower end of the coveted 18-49 demographic. Furthermore, every study I’ve ever seen shows that Hispanic/Latinx and African-American fans favor boxing over MMA, in spite of the UFC employing a significant number of fighters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. So if the UFC’s current demographic skews older and more homogeneous than boxing’s, and they’ve shown no indication that they have the ability to consistently draw in those fans, why would a young, minority boxing fan (which is almost certainly the demographic that the UFC is trying to poach by branching out into boxing) be more inclined to give their disposable income to Dana White over a promoter who has consistently engaged their interest? Moreover, why would any boxing fan turn away from an established promoter for a guy who has shown time and again that he can’t find and develop new stars consistently?

Admittedly, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but ultimately, I’m reading this statement as the UFC dipping into boxing will be a lifeline for their struggling promotion, and I can’t say that I believe that. If anything, I feel like they’ll sink a bunch of money into an ultimately unsuccessful venture, which will actually end up doing more harm to their bottom line than good. Imagine if a famous wrestling promoter tried to get into bodybuilding or professional football (I know, I know, nothing crazy like that could ever happen, but play along).


It’s a shame Will Brooks had a failed UFC run; and, at his age, 31, while he may return to the promotion, he’s likely never to make a UFC title run.

Jeffrey Harris: FICTION I’m never going to say never in his case. Look at the return of people like Robbie Lawler. He’s pretty much the blueprint for a guy who left the UFC, fought elsewhere. In fact, in Strikeforce, Lawler was a pretty middling talent. But he came back to the UFC as a welterweight, went on a tear, and eventually became champion. Look at Rafael dos Anjos. He started his UFC career at 0-2. On one occasion, he even had his jaw broken by bloody Clay Guida and got submitted. Clay Guida broke Dos Anjos’ jaw with a punch. He later became UFC lightweight champion, and now he’s one of the top contenders at welterweight. It’s probably a slim chance he gets a UFC title run, but I won’t say never. I think he will find his way back to the UFC eventually.

Wyatt Beougher: FACT I was actually pretty excited for Will Brooks to debut in the UFC, because he looked like he had improved dramatically during his time in Bellator, and while he was jumping into arguably the most competitive division in the UFC, I thought he would be able to hold his own and perhaps even make a run at the UFC lightweight championship. After going 1-3 in his first four fights with the promotion, against largely middling competition, to boot, I can see the error of my ways. And while other fighters have had success in the Octagon in their middle and late 30s and even into their 40s (Randy Couture and Dan Henderson immediately come to mind), the sheer athleticism and quickness on display in the average lightweight fight is only going to make that proposition harder for Brooks, considering he’s probably at least three fights away from getting another look from the UFC (and that’s only if those fights are either flashy finishes or pure, bell-to-bell dominant decisions).


Booking Luke Rockhold vs. Alexander Gustafsson to possibly set up Daniel Comier vs. Alexander Gustafsson is a great idea to make the light heavyweight division compelling as the division struggles for a breath of fresh air.

Jeffrey Harris: FICTION I say FICTION because it’s not automatically going to set up Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson. I think it is good because light heavyweight can definitely use someone such as Luke Rockhold, depending on how well he does moving up to 205 pounds. Realistically, you have to consider Rockhold being a good stylistic and physical match-up for Gustafsson. You also have to consider Daniel Cormier winning the heavyweight title against Miocic. In that case, Cormier is never going to go back down to 205 pounds for the remainder of his career. Even if Jon Jones does come back for another fight, if he fights Cormier again, it will probably be at heavyweight or a catchweight. Based on Cormier’s own words, he doesn’t want to fight past 40. So even if he does fight another year or six months or so, that extremely limits his options for his remaining fights. I just have a feeling we never see Cormier fight again at 205 pounds. And if he does, I doubt it’s against Gustafsson. Not to mention, both Cormier and Gustafsson are very injury prone.

Wyatt Beougher: FACT This is a conditional FACT, as if Rockhold and Cormier are unwilling to fight if Rockhold wins, then a fight with Gustafsson actually does more damage than benefit to the light heavyweight division in that scenario. If all goes according to UFC’s most likely plan in that scenario, and Gus wins and Cormier either loses to Stipe Miocic or wins the heavyweight title and actually decides his next fight will be to defend his light heavyweight title, then you’ve got a nice shot in the arm for the division with a pair of fights that basically sell themselves based on the bad blood that has come to light on social media over the past couple of weeks.


So who won? You’ve got until midnight eastern on Tuesday to vote, so make sure you make your voice heard!


And that’s it for today but, as always, we’ll be back next week with another contest! And please, be sure to vote!

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