Derrick Lewis’ retirement from mixed martial arts lasted less than a month. Hardly long enough to call his next fight, scheduled for this Saturday (October 7) at UFC 216, a ‘comeback’, Lewis’ return to competition is as inevitable as the retirement announcement was surprising. If anything, it’s a concession he spoke too soon, that he wasn’t thinking straight following a loss, and is a sign, once again, that the UFC heavyweight division remains a rotting carcass from which many are still happy to chew.
Derrick Lewis is not alone in this. He’s not the only fighter to retire and return. Even light-heavyweight Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, a man who seemed certain he was quitting back in April, has recently suggested he might return to the cage, only this time as a heavyweight. Funny, that. He, like Lewis, like everyone else with even a passing interest in mixed martial arts, can see opportunities aplenty in the sport’s so-called marquee division.
Headed up by UFC champion Stipe Miocic, heavyweight is a weight class chock-full of guys in their late thirties and forties, many of whom have been knocked out countless times, and boasts a top ten that can be penetrated with just a single decent win. Anthony Johnson realises this. So too does Derrick Lewis, someone who was last seen being beaten up by Mark Hunt, but who figures a win over Fabricio Werdum this weekend will amend all of that, surpass all that came before it, and perhaps land him a title shot early next year. Who knows? Certainly, though, Lewis and the rest wouldn’t be so quick to retire and then un-retire if their division was packed full of deadly young heavyweights eager to usher out the old guard.
Lewis isn’t old. In fact, at 32, he’s positively wet behind the ears when compared to Hunt (43), Werdum (40) and Alistair Overeem (37). But he’s still been around the block once or twice. As well as a stoppage loss to Hunt, he has also been halted by Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan. He is, therefore, no fresh face or new name. He’s not a Francis Ngannou. We figure we know what Lewis can and can’t do at this stage. He probably knows, too, despite the fact he says he has dieted for the first time ahead of this Werdum matchup and, though hungry, expects to be all the better for it.
“I was still eating fried chicken and hamburgers all of fight week,” Lewis told FloCombat. “The day of the fight, I’ve stayed eating the same way my whole career. Now I’m going to see what the difference is to see what all the fuss is about.
“My mouth is watering right now thinking about some Carl’s Jr. I’m starving. You eat salad and you’re hungry the next 30 minutes and you’re hungrier from when you ate the damn salad. That’s what I don’t like about it.
“The damn McRib was in town. I had to miss the McRib and all the other things. My favorite restaurant had a special going on and I couldn’t even eat it. Somebody’s gotta pay.”
Lewis has a couple of things in his favour. He is, for one, a big personality in the sport, someone liable to say amusing and self-deprecating stuff (like the above), and will therefore always grab attention. (This love of Lewis will have only been enhanced by the heartwarming story of him helping victims of Hurricane Harvey in the lead up to his next fight.) Secondly, he is accustomed to putting on fun fights. He goes out there and throws hands wildly from the off and looks for the knockout, his mentality very much kill-or-be-killed. Win or lose, he’s always watchable.
Right now, in 2017, that’s probably enough. Get some victories added to that package and you’re there or thereabouts. Next in line. Derrick Lewis must understand that. It’s why he perseveres. It’s why he reneged on the retirement vow. And it’s why he looks at Fabricio Werdum, now 40, having lost seven times and been knocked out by Miocic, and sees not only a former UFC heavyweight champion but an opportunity.
One punch and everything changes; one win and everything changes. These are heavyweights, after all.