Derrick Lewis brought jokes to UFC Fight Night 105, and—luckily—he got the chance to use them.
But just barely.
Things were touch and go for Lewis on Sunday, as he endured a series of painful body kicks from Travis Browne during the first round of their heavyweight main event at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
For those first five minutes, it looked like the suddenly patient Browne might win the day, before Lewis abruptly roared back for a dramatic KO victory 3:12 into the second.
He was still holding his stomach as ring announcer Joe Martinez informed an announced crowd of 8,123 of the particulars, but a few moments later, Lewis assured UFC color commentator Brian Stann that Browne never had him in serious trouble.
"I'm not really hurting from the kick; I just have to go poo-poo," Lewis said.
He then ripped Browne over allegations of domestic violence made by Browne’s ex-wife in 2015. For his closing number, Lewis even sent a public how-you-doin’ out to Browne’s current girlfriend, former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
“I just knew I had a bigger heart than him,” Lewis said. “He calls himself a man, but he likes to put his hands on women, so, forget that guy. I have much more heart than he has. Where’s Ronda Rousey’s fine ass at?”
Lewis’ antics may not be classy, per se, or even appropriate, but they're becoming boon for a division that historically has a hard time getting out of its own way. They were also a welcome capper for another six-fight UFC cable television main card that ran over three hours while conspicuously lacking star power.
Dispatching Browne marked Lewis’ division-leading sixth win in a row. In the volatile 265-pound weight class, it may well be the one that vaults the Houston native to legitimate contender status.
It's clear people are starting to take notice (warning: NSFW language):
The flaws in Lewis’ game often threaten to short-circuit his climb up the heavyweight ranks, but so far his savvy, mental toughness and crushing punching power have been enough to stave off disaster.
He has a knack for getting opponents to play to his strengths. When the 6’3”, 262-pound brawler can bait guys like Browne into abandoning their game plans in favor of a slugfest, Lewis comes away looking like the kind of KO artist nobody in their right mind should want to fight.
Simply put, it’s tough to look good in a fight against a guy like Lewis. He excels at turning bouts into gritty, stand-and-bang affairs where athleticism and technical skill get smothered by his jaw-jacking attacks. Those sorts of fights often end with visuals like this one, from the Instagram account of MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn:
To think, things started so well for Browne.
He came out of his corner looking to capitalize on his lanky 6’7” frame and did a good job in the early going keeping Lewis at the end of his rangy front kicks. Browne was content to land hard leg kicks and continually dig his toes into the shorter fighter’s gut while staying away from Lewis’ devastating punches.
Lewis managed some surprisingly lithe attacks of his own, firing off a couple of spinning strikes and a jumping kick, but the flashy stuff all missed its mark. As the two went back to their corners after the first, it looked as though the slumping Browne might score the biggest win of his recent career, perhaps concluding a stretch that saw him go 2-3 since April 2014.
In the second, though, Lewis did a better job getting inside Browne’s kicks. He stunned the taller fighter with punching barrages against the fences and landed a few hard uppercuts out of the clinch. When Browne tried to take him down midway through the round, Lewis skillfully revered the position and wound up in top position, landing strikes from half guard.
Browne managed to get back to his feet, but then Lewis dropped him the final time with a glancing right hand to the top of the head. He followed with a series of heavy blows that left Browne unconscious on the mat, finally prompting a dangerously late stoppage from referee Mario Yamasaki.
As the UFC’s broadcast on Fox Sports 1 went to commercial, both fighters remained down on the canvas. By the time cameras returned to live action, though, they were up, and Lewis was ready to showcase his unique charms on the mic.
The series of wry one-liners kept rolling at the post-fight press conference. Lewis showed up toting a tiny replica title belt and declaring himself the UFC's “interim heavyweight champion.” He also called out fellow heavy-hitter Mark Hunt for a future fight.
And why not?
While putting up a 9-2 record in the Octagon dating back to April 2014, Lewis has become very popular with MMA’s hardcore fan base. His outrageous social media presence and self-proclaimed “keep it real” attitude have set him apart, even if it’s unclear what the increasingly corporate-minded UFC will make of him.
All joking aside, Lewis has also emerged as one of the heavyweight division’s only real up-and-coming prospects. At 32 years old, he’s still comparatively young for the rapidly aging weight class and now has also fashioned himself into one of its best loved current characters.
Beating Browne is an important signpost for Lewis. Though the 34-year-old Hawaii native has recently fallen on hard times, it wasn’t too long ago that Browne himself was a 13-0 prospect and thought to be a future star in the division.
Previous to this defeat, Browne’s only losses had come at the hands of former champions, and in one oddball 2012 fight where he tore his hamstring in the opening moments against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Lewis came into this fight No. 8 on the UFC’s official heavyweight rankings. He and No. 6 Francis Ngannou are the division’s only two noticeable prospects at the moment, and it makes sense for matchmakers to keep them apart as they build their resumes.
A meeting with Hunt hits the ear just fine, depending on how Hunt’s scheduled fight against Alistair Overeem goes at UFC 209.
First, though, Lewis insisted he’s ready for a breather. He's fought eight times during the last two years—an insane pace for a heavyweight—and has earned the chance for a little R&R.
“We just gotta go back and press the reset button,” Lewis told Stann. “I just need a break. Fighting every other month, every two months like that has put me in a bad mood at home with my family. I just feel like I need some time off. I don’t want to hear nothing about no fighting for the next three months.”