mma / Columns

Odd Circumstances Add Intrigue to Cormier vs. Lewis

October 15, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
UFC 230 Daniel Cormier Derrick Lewis

Perhaps the UFC knew its co-main event for November 3 was in jeopardy when they turned to desperate measures.

At the beginning of last week, the UFC’s yearly trek to Madison Square Garden appeared to be set. After all, they had less than four weeks to fight time. The ostensible main event would be Valentina Shevchenko vs. Sijara Eubanks for the vacant women’s flyweight title, while the semi-main event, Nate Diaz vs. Dustin Poirier, would do the heavy lifting in terms of hype. By Tuesday, both fights were off the card.

On Monday, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported that the UFC was exploring a heavyweight title tilt between Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis for the card. The report came unexpectedly. Outside of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Derrick Lewis was UFC 229’s breakout star last Saturday night for an impactful come-from-behind knockout win and an even better post-fight interview. But in the process, he took a tremendous beating—78 significant strikes to the head by FightMetric’s count. Just an hour before Okamoto’s report, the Nevada Athletic Commission announced that Lewis had been medically suspended until November 6 with no contact until October 28. The commission’s report reasoned that Lewis had a “tough fight,” which was putting it mildly.

The other reason that the report came out of left field was that Daniel Cormier was still battling a hand injury he suffered in July, and he’d previously turned down bouts on both the November 3 and December 29 to heal up. But for both Cormier and Lewis, money talks.

By Tuesday, the fight was official. It’s a unique fight in that the fact that neither fighter will come into the bout at their best actually makes it more interesting.

Under normal circumstances, Cormier would be an enormous favorite to beat Lewis. Even under these circumstances, he’s a hefty six-to-one favorite, but the knowledge that he won’t be coming in at his best is a key factor. Cormier is a pressure fighter and likes to keep a high pace, especially against a fighter like Lewis that isn’t known for strong cardio. If he pushes the pace and can’t put Lewis away, in the later rounds that means a tired Cormier trying to avoid Lewis’s lunchboxes. By no means does Lewis have anything resembling good cardio, but he picks his spots very well when tired, as he did against Alexander Volkov at UFC 229.

In addition to the cardio factor, we’ll have to see how Cormier’s right hand injury affects his punching and his wrestling. Speaking to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani on October 1, Cormier noted that he couldn’t make a fist and that when he’d attempted to train, he “couldn’t grab to wrestle.” We can assume Cormier’s hand will recover to a point that allows him to punch and wrestle by November 3, but if he worsens the injury during the fight, it could change the fight’s direction.

Of course, Lewis isn’t coming into the fight unscathed. More than just numbers, Volkov hurt him at least twice in their October 6 bout. Had Volkov played the running man for the fight’s last fifteen seconds, he would have won on lopsided scorecards. The championship opportunity was too sweet for Lewis to turn down, but it’s a dangerous fight for him in every sense of the word.

The reality is that Lewis shouldn’t be fighting so soon after taking the beating he did. He’ll surely be cleared by a doctor before stepping into the cage, but two bad beatings within a four-week span can’t be good for the brain.

Lewis also didn’t show much stamina against Volkov, tiring by the second round. In his now-legendary post-fight interview, Lewis dismissed his chances of fighting for the title next because he needed to improve his cardio. He won’t be able to do anything in four weeks that will prepare him to go three, much less five, hard rounds. With that in mind, perhaps he’ll treat the fight as a sprint, trying to catch a dipping Cormier early. The risk is that strategy is only going to tire him out faster if it’s unsuccessful. And if Lewis gets sloppy in his pursuit, Cormier has the speed and power to turn it right back around on him.

That’s probably the best-case scenario for the fight in terms of excitement, with Lewis coming out fast and forcing Cormier to respond. If Lewis lies back and waits for a moment that may never come, we’ll likely see a much slower bout with Cormier looking to wear on Lewis and break him. That seems to be the most likely scenario, with Cormier stopping Lewis on the ground at some point.

With both fighters at their best, Cormier should overwhelm Lewis and dispatch him with relative ease. The idea that Cormier hasn’t been training and has an injured hand benefits Lewis, but not nearly enough to swing the odds in his favor. However, it does add a bit of intrigue to a fight and a card that could really use it.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.