Will Derrick Lewis vs. Mark Hunt Be the Slugfest of Our Heavyweight Dreams?

Mike Chiappetta@MikeChiappettaMMA Senior ColumnistJune 7, 2017

Mark Hunt (left) and Derrick Lewis shared a few cordial moments before their New Zealand throwdown.
Mark Hunt (left) and Derrick Lewis shared a few cordial moments before their New Zealand throwdown.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

If you’re in the market for some hammer-fisted heavyweight action this weekend, the UFC has just the main event for you. Derrick Lewis and Mark Hunt will headline UFC Fight Night 110 on Saturday evening U.S. time in New Zealand.

Lewis vs. Hunt...oh, boy, that sounds like a main course, doesn’t it? In the UFC heavyweight rankings, that’s No. 7 vs. No. 6, but these are two fighters who are in very different stretches of their respective careers.

Lewis is on the come-up, a 32-year-old who had a late start in MMA but has found success with his crushing power, racking up six straight wins. Hunt, meanwhile, is 43 years old, embroiled in a lawsuit with the UFC and its president Dana White, and has only won two of his last six matches.

It’s rare to see a heavyweight prospect break through to title contention. Most of the names around the heavyweight top 10—Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, etc.—have been there for years, but Lewis is moving closer to pushing to the front of the pack. So it’s a fun fight and an interesting one, and joining me to discuss it is my colleague, Chad Dundas.

Lewis is coming off a crushing knockout of Travis Browne.
Lewis is coming off a crushing knockout of Travis Browne.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Mike Chiappetta: Chad, I have a feeling that at about the moment the ref squares them up for last-minute instructions, I’ll be giddy about this fight. How could I not be? There is a reason that heavyweights steal the air out of a room. It’s not just their size, but their power and the aura of unpredictability that comes with it.

Any punch can change everything. Any moment could be the last one. 

Lewis and Hunt are in some ways birds of a feather. They are ferocious punchers who will gladly step in the line of fire to launch their own offensive. But the way they do it is very different.

Lewis isn’t a technical marvel. He's big and powerful, and he fights like he knows those are two of his most meaningful weapons. He’ll walk you down and sling leather and, when he smells fear, unleash a torrent of fists and elbows until you wither or run for cover. He doesn’t have much interest in fighting on the ground or outpointing opponents. He’s all about the finish, baby.

Hunt has a little more subtlety to his game. He’s always had to, because at his height (he’s just 5'10"), he’s always had to navigate the distance to get inside against the heavyweight division’s monsters. So he’s had to develop a deep bag of tricks to get there. He’s great at baiting opponents into his traps and has the one-punch power to turn a single mistake into a TKO. He’ll chop down opponents with kicks, too. And he’s more than happy to fight in close quarters.

So they have some similarities and some differences, and that will be thrilling to watch, for however long it lasts. 

Chad, what do you like about this fight, and is there anything not to like about it?

Chad Dundas: Almost nothing that will likely happen from bell to bell, that's for sure.

We all know how Hunt fights. It's not as though he's going to transform himself into a play-it-safe grappler in the next few days. He's going to swing for the fences and hope for the best. And while it's not a style of fighting you want to dwell on for too long, it should be fun to watch.

Meanwhile, the last time Lewis won by submission was November 2010, when he stopped somebody named Rakim Cleveland via second-round armbar at something called Worldwide Gladiator. Oh, to have footage of that one. Since that night, 14 of Lewis' next 19 fights have ended in TKO victories for the 6'3" Louisiana native.

So, yeah, this one ought to be a slobberknocker.

Now, granted, Lewis seemingly has more to lose than Hunt. Is there an outside chance he comes into this thing with an actual game plan? Is there a chance he tries to pull a fast one with takedowns and top control? Sure.

But honestly? I just don't see it. Both these guys know what they're here for and know full well the attributes that make them popular, marketable fighters. Besides, in the heavyweight division, it's fairly simple to battle back from a loss, so there's next to no reason—unless you want to consider the long-term effects—to play it particularly safe.

One thing that kind of does bother me, though, Mike, is Hunt's ongoing legal struggle with the UFC. Since that ill-fated loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 200, he's given every impression he wants only to get through his existing contract as quickly as possible and then get gone.

Now he's saying he's found reasons to think his UFC 209 loss to Alistair Overeem was suspect, too.

Do those extenuating circumstances put any kind of damper on this for you? Namely, that Hunt doesn't seem to be in a great headspace?

As Hunt prepared to take on Lewis, he also waged a fight with the UFC.
As Hunt prepared to take on Lewis, he also waged a fight with the UFC.Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Mike: Well, if you want to be all Debbie Downer about it, I must acknowledge you have a valid point. Even though Hunt is a born fighter, you can’t help but feel that this legal case has to be more than just a passing distraction and may actually affect his preparation and performance.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that the best person always wins, or that these guys are simple machines of destruction instead of complex humans that deal with the same hopes, fears, emotions and problems as anyone else, and that all those things can follow them to work.

When we make our predictions or set our expectations for fights, these are X-factors that we often can’t account for. 

Hunt isn’t only facing those kinds of problems, but he’s also at an significant age disadvantage here. He’s 11 years older than Lewis, and his chin, while still amazing, ain’t quite what it used to be. I wouldn’t say I’m to the point that it makes me uneasy to watch Hunt, but I am saying that I worry about how many more of these battles he has in him. 

Chad, you said something interesting, in that you believe Lewis has more to lose than Hunt. I’m not sure that’s the case. At Hunt’s age, how many more big paydays does he have ahead of him? According to the Nevada Athletic Commission, Hunt made a $750,000 purse in his last match. Say he loses and the UFC cuts him. Sure, there will be bidders for his services, but would any of them approach that kind of coin? Given what we know about MMA contracts, I have a hard time believing they would.

Lewis, though, still has a lot of time left. As you mentioned, a loss won’t end any kind of title hopes for him; the UFC will certainly offer him opportunities to get himself back into the chase.

So I guess that brings me to this: how will the fight go, and who will win?

For one thing, I actually believe this fight goes past a round or two. Both Lewis and Hunt are historically durable, and I think both will be a little more cautious of the other’s power than they normally would be against other opponents. But that will only last so long. I expect a lot of power punches being thrown with ill intent and some kind of highlight-reel ending. I’m sure most of us would be surprised if it didn’t end that way. 

Chad, this is about as fun a pairing as the UFC can make with its top-15 heavyweights, isn’t it? What do you hope we get out of it, and is this one of those matchups where the result is less important than the action that is delivered?

Chad: Well, first and foremost, I hope we get a fight-of-the-year candidate brawl to rival the one Hunt had against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva back in 2013—and this time without somebody testing positive for PEDs afterward. 

I hope, as always, we get in and out of this fight without any serious injuries.

Because I'm a strict institutionalist, I also hope something happens to further the overall heavyweight title picture. I guess that means my heart is with Lewis. As you mentioned, the 265-pound class has been hard-up for new title contenders in recent years. Suddenly, with Stipe Miocic as champion, and with Lewis and Francis Ngannou shaping up as fresh contenders, it feels as though there is some momentum starting to build.

A win over Hunt could conceivably make Lewis the next logical choice to face Miocic later this year. That would be a fun fight not only because of the matchup of styles but because both Miocic and Lewis bring a lot of personality to promoting their bouts. For my money, that's exactly the kind of matchup the heavyweight division needs to start feeling great again.

Line up Ngannou for the winner—barring anything crazy like the arrival of Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier to the weight class later this year—and you might be onto something.

But because this is the heavyweight division, I also can't be too confident any of that will happen, Mike. Despite the fact Hunt comes in 2-3 (1 no contest) in his last six fights and Lewis has won his last six in a row, the outcome here is far from a foregone conclusion.

Even when he's on, Lewis gets hit, and his brawling style can sometimes turn sloppy. We all know only bad things happen when you allow one of Hunt's canned ham fists to connect with your face. So, if this night ends in a big win for the Super Samoan on his home turf, I won't be surprised about that, either.

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