Derrick Lewis Hopes to Re-Enter UFC’s Heavyweight Title Picture vs. Tai Tuivasa
Derrick Lewis returns to the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas this Saturday for UFC 271, his first fight in the arena since last August.
That last visit was UFC 265, where Lewis suffered a humbling TKO loss against Ciryl Gane in an interim heavyweight title bout. More than shattering Lewis’ title hopes, that defeat also crushed a celebration that represented far more than a championship belt.
“When I fought Gane, that day was the same day I was released from prison,” said Lewis, who served three-and-half years in prison nearly two decades ago, a sentence caused by violating his probation after he was charged with assaulting a member of the Ku Klux Klan. “That would have been my moment to go all the way from the bottom to all the way to the top. That’s why I put so much pressure on myself.
“But that [loss] isn’t going to be my end. I’m going to get another crack at it.”
Lewis returned to the cage in December and defeated Chris Daukaus in the UFC’s final card of 2021. Entering fight week still apoplectic over the fact that he was the underdog, Lewis pulverized Daukaus into the new year with an emphatic first-round knockout. It marked his 13th knockout victory in the Octagon, breaking the UFC record for most knockout wins.
“I ain’t going to tell you he was trash, but he didn’t have wins over anybody that I’d fought before,” said Lewis (26-8, 1 NC). “I couldn’t believe that [I was the underdog]. He hadn’t fought anyone. So I don’t know who was in charge of that. It pissed me off.”
As impressive as Lewis was in that victory, it has not boosted him into the title picture. That scene belongs to reigning champ Francis Ngannou, Jon Jones (who is expected to make his long-awaited heavyweight debut this year), and former two-time champ Stipe Miocic, with Gane rounding out the top four. While Lewis is ranked third in the division, he has faltered in his two shots at the belt. The quest to attain another title bout continues at 271 this Saturday, where he meets rising star Tai Tuivasa.
Riding a four-fight win streak, the popular Tuivasa (13-3) is piling up knockout wins. All but one of his wins are via knockout, with the most impressive taking place last July in Las Vegas when he sent Greg Hardy to sleep. That moment caught Lewis’ attention, as he consistently roots against Hardy, who has a history of domestic abuse.
“That’s the reason I don’t like that man–I don’t like no man who does that,” Lewis said. “Tuivasa had me worried for a few seconds [in their fight], but he got his wits back and ended up knocking Hardy out. Hardy’s a guy I’d like to knock out, for sure, so I appreciate him doing that.”
Following his victories, Tuivasa celebrates by drinking a beer out of someone’s shoe. Known as “a shoey,” Lewis finds the whole ordeal appalling.
“I won’t be drinking a beer out of a stranger’s shoe,” Lewis said. “I’m pretty happy with a beer out of my cup.”
Ranked 11th among heavyweights, Tuivasa would reach a whole new tier in the UFC if he defeats Lewis. It would instantly propel him into a top heavyweight contender, though it will be an extraordinarily difficult feat to achieve. Results have proven there is a massive gap between the top five of the UFC’s heavyweight division and everyone else, a notion reinforced when Lewis pummeled seventh-ranked Daukaus in December. Even with the loss, Daukaus has held on to that ranking.
“It’s only the top five,” Lewis said. “After that, we robbing a bank. We just stealing money. Some of these guys ain’t heavyweights, they just fat.
“I respect Tuivasa, and I understand that anything can happen in a fight. He’s a younger guy, and he’s really in the same shoes I was in a few years ago. So I’m looking forward to this.”
Lewis’ chase continues at 271. A chance to throw down with Tuivasa in front of his hometown fans in Houston offers an opportunity to exit the building on better terms than he did last August, and Lewis plans to make the most of the moment.
“Only one round,” Lewis said. “That’s what I want. I believe this will be over in the first round.”