Preview: UFC 230 ‘Cormier vs. Lewis’

Cormier vs. Lewis

By Tom Feely Oct 31, 2018

UFC 230 is now available on Amazon Prime.

It looks like things worked out. The Ultimate Fighting Championship scrambled to find a headliner for its Madison Square Garden event on Saturday in New York before settling on a thrown-together heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis. While that is a solid enough marquee matchup, the MMA gods basically demanded that the rest of the UFC 230 main card fall apart as payment.

While there is an intriguing co-main event and the welcomed return of Israel Adesanya, there is not much in the way of star power or particularly relevant fights. Nevertheless, the UFC managed to put together a fun roster from top to bottom, so it figures to be an exciting show from start to finish, even if it lacks the big-event feel of the UFC’s last two trips to The Big Apple.

Let us get to the UFC 230 “Cormier vs. Lewis” breakdown:

UFC Heavyweight Championship

Daniel Cormier (21-1) vs. Derrick Lewis (21-5)

ODDS: Cormier (-700), Lewis (+500)

Instead of striking while the iron is hot, the UFC decided to strike while the “balls was hot.” The big talk coming out of UFC 229 was obviously the big show-ending brawl, but not far behind was Lewis’ ridiculous performance. Lewis has long been a cult favorite with some star potential. Both his social-media presence and his post-fight interviews are marked by his willingness to say absolutely anything, and being a massive power puncher only helps that Q rating. However, Lewis’ game, frankly, is one that would only work at heavyweight, as it is bizarrely structureless and built around intimidation, power and size. Lewis’ main strength is that knockout power, and as a result, opponents are often reluctant to trade blows with him, which manifests in two ways: Either they try to wrestle with him, at which point Lewis’ immense size and strength tires them out, or they slow the pace to a crawl, a position from which Lewis can pick his shots and score a knockout blow. Lewis’ UFC 229 win over Alexander Volkov was basically perfection of the Dadaist nature of his fights. He reacted to damage horribly while still finding a way to survive, and despite gassing in short order, he still somehow managed to outlast Volkov and score a comeback win in the last seconds of the fight. Then, naturally, Lewis took off his pants -- because his “balls was hot” -- and gave an amazing post-fight interview that culminated in his saying his cardio was too poor for him to deserve a title shot. Still, money talks, opportunity knocks and sometimes the UFC just does not have many better options, so bad news for Lewis: He is fighting Cormier for the heavyweight title less than a month later.

Cormier’s place among the all-time greats is concrete at this point. For a while, the talking point was that “DC” was underrated because of the existence of Jon Jones, but between Jones’ screw-ups and Cormier’s continued success, that is no longer the case. A lifelong elite wrestler, Cormier was a natural when it comes to MMA. He was already 30 when he made his debut, but within two and a half years, he was outboxing Josh Barnett to win the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. The presence of Cormier’s longtime friend, Cain Velasquez, as heavyweight champ forced his hand to move down to 205 pounds, at which point the dominance continued, save for his two fights against Jones. The time after the first Jones loss was a bit of twisted wish fulfillment for Cormier, who won the “undisputed” title after his archrival was stripped due to legal issues. However, he was stuck with the eternal tease of a Jones rematch while the UFC fanbase still considered “Bones” the true, rightful champion. It seemed to get even worse after Jones defeated Cormier for the belt, only to fail an in-competition drug test. Thankfully, Cormier’s recent reign has gone much better than the first. This may have been one too many mishaps for Jones as far as the fans having any faith in him goes, and Cormier has proven his championship worth with a stellar 2018, dominating Volkan Oezdemir before moving up to heavyweight and starching Stipe Miocic to become a two-division champion. Cormier has been open about wanting to retire by his 40th birthday this March, and he’s looking to make the most of his last few money-making months. A title defense against Brock Lesnar was assumed to be his next bout, but with the UFC in a bind, the promotion threw enough money at Cormier to get him to take the short-notice fight here. Cormier supporters hope it pays off beyond his bank account.

Even beyond the fact that Lewis is in it, this is a weird fight, made only stranger by the short-notice nature. Lewis’ cardio has obviously never been the best and he has a perennially ailing back, while Cormier is heading into this fight with an injured hand. Despite Lewis not being all that skilled, his physical strength does make for a difficult matchup for a grinder like Cormier. While Cormier has typically been able to rely on his elite wrestling and grinding clinch work as a safety blanket, there is a question about how that will fare against someone who was basically able to bench press Roy Nelson off of him. While I am among the many who love Cormier, there is a part of me that would love to see Lewis score the upset here. A week-plus shy of the UFC’s 25th anniversary, it would be a wonderful rejoinder to the origins of the sport and the argument that skill beats size if someone won a UFC title basically by being large and strong. However, this probably winds up being a fight where there are levels to this thing. I do fear Cormier could fall into the same trap as many and wear himself out trying to move Lewis around, but he is an elite wrestler and Lewis is a former tow-truck driver, so I would like to have some faith in the champ. Cormier is more than capable of following the same game plan as Mark Hunt, who picked apart and outmaneuvered Lewis on the feet before laying the volume onto an exhausted “Black Beast.” That is the call, even if Cormier losing this fight falls right in line with how the MMA gods work. With extreme apprehension, the pick is “DC” via third-round stoppage.

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