People love Derrick Lewis.
No, seriously. People love him.
He's got some of the best social media in the game. In February, he memorably smashed one of the sport's most disliked fighters in Travis Browne, took a swipe at his then-girlfriend Ronda Rousey not long after doing it and showed up at the post-fight presser brandishing his very own interim heavyweight title.
For fans, he's a legend. For foes, he's a nightmare.
Before a stoppage loss to Mark Hunt this past summer, Lewis had won six in a row—five by KO or TKO—and was the hottest heavyweight on Earth. He's netted three performance bonuses in his UFC career and easily could have been fighting for a world title with a better turn of fate against Hunt.
As he's increasingly learned the game and rounded out his form, he's become something to behold. This Saturday he'll have a chance to show how far he's come, as he'll trade shots with former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 216 in Las Vegas.
Werdum, interestingly, has suffered a fall to serve as the inverse of Lewis' rise.
Though he remains as talented an athlete as there is among UFC big men, he's lost two of three following a four-year undefeated run.
He was once beloved the way Lewis is now: a light-hearted, comedic personality who was known for making funny faces and representing MMA's gentle art better than anyone. Unfortunately after a string of hate speech and a penchant for picking fights with guys smaller than him, the whole sport seems to have changed its opinion and no amount of "Werdum Face" can undo it.
Where Werdum's social media posts are doing things like defending homophobic rants in multiple languages, Lewis' are documenting his attempts at literally saving lives in the middle of one of the worst hurricanes in recent American history.
Predictably, that resonates with people.
There's a realness to Lewis that only the most marketable MMA fighters seem to have. While so many fighters waste their time shouting (tweeting?) into the void about the sanctity of world titles or about it being "their time," men like Lewis are out there making fans by being themselves.
It is fun to watch Lewis carve fellow fighters and fans with his sharp wit, and it all belies a likable impishness that makes you feel like this beast could just as easily be at your family gathering telling jokes and having fun.
Watching him perform at the highest levels of his craft with some of the more exciting outcomes seen in recent memory is something of an icing on the cake.
Werdum's fall, both in image and recent results, comes at a perfect time for Lewis. As he did with Browne, he gets to serve as something of an agent for fan frustrations by gloving up this weekend.
People are firmly behind him and many are eager to see some karma befall Werdum. Lewis, with his brute strength and brawling style, has a capacity to be very karmic in his violence.
And of course, such a win would catapult him to the very top of the UFC heavyweight rankings (he's sixth; Werdum second) and probably place him no less than a fight away from a title shot. It's not a foregone conclusion, as Werdum is an athlete and a talent well above those Lewis has fought prior, but the stakes are as high as they've ever been for him.
Show up big and the MMA community will surely rejoice; display a continued development curve to match his popularity, and it might make the next belt he brings to a presser into the real thing.