Derrick Lewis never expected to be fighting for the UFC heavyweight title; it was never his aim, nor was it something he fixated on. While others in the division were on a quest for gold, “The Black Beast” was chasing paychecks, more focused on adding to his bank account than climbing the rankings.
But then Lewis started stringing together victories and developing a cult following on social media, and when he rallied in the final seconds to defeat Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 to earn his ninth win in his last 10 appearances, the Houston native established himself as a legitimate title contender.
Less than a month later, he was tabbed to challenge for the belt in the main event of Saturday’s return to Madison Square Garden. All he needed to do in order to complete his improbable climb to the top was get through Daniel Cormier.
Back in July, Cormier scored a stunning first-round knockout win over Stipe Miocic to claim the heavyweight title, becoming the first man to hold the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles simultaneously.
While his biggest UFC moments had come in the 205-pound weight class, two-thirds of Cormier’s 21 career victories have come at heavyweight, with his championship win at UFC 226 pushing his record to an incredible 14-0 overall in the big boy division.
Expected to remain out of the cage until next year, the 39-year-old two-time Olympian and two-division champion accepted the opportunity to compete at “The Mecca” in Manhattan, risking his place atop the division and everything he’s worked for in order to further cement his legacy.
It was a surprising pairing, but one that carried a ton of intrigue, as Lewis has shown that he’s never out of a fight and Cormier’s competitive instincts propelled him into the cage with the dangerous knockout artist when many others would have opted to remain on the sidelines until 2019.
After an electric undercard, it was down to the “Double Champ” and the challenger with nothing to lose, closing out the show with the heavyweight title hanging in the balance.
Less than a minute in, Cormier snatched up a single leg and dumped Lewis to the floor, immediately moving to a half-guard ride and mushing his elbow into Lewis’ face. The challenger powered his way to his feet, but the champion stayed sticky and twisted Lewis to the canvas again with another easy single, once again taking up residency in half guard.
A series of big strikes prompted to Lewis to give up his back and Cormier manhandled him on the mat, turning him back over to land more heavy shots before the end of the opening round.
Lewis came out more aggressively in the second, threatening with strikes through the opening minute, but as soon as Cormier could close the distance, he dumped him to the canvas. While Lewis instantly worked back to this feet, Cormier snapped him to the canvas with a headlock, then picked the ankle to keep him grounded as the challenger looked to scramble free.
From there, Cormier climbed around to Lewis’ back and quickly sunk in a rear-naked choke, clamping down on the squeeze and forcing “The Black Beast” to tap out.
“It’s history, baby,” said Cormier, speaking with Joe Rogan following his victory. “Like my man Jon Anik says, ‘History in the making. Daniel Cormie; one of the greatest of all-time.
“Everything he did had unbelievable power,” he said of Lewis. “I truly do appreciate him. I love his Instagram, I love his story and it was an honor for me to share the Octagon with him.
This was another masterful performance from the two-division champion, who continued to show that he’s on another level when it comes to wrestling and that he is undeniably the best heavyweight in the sport today, a notion Cormier expanded upon following the bout.
“I think a lot of people have to understand that I’ve been doing this for nine years and I’ve fought at a championship level for eight of them,” he said. “There are no surprises with me. I come in here and try to do my thing. Ifyou come in here with a puncher’s chance, it’s not enough. You have to be one of the best in the world to be able to compete. Derrick is good, but he’s not at that level yet.”
As for what’s next, the “Double Champ” made it clear that he’d like to be a “Triple Champ” in 2019.
“Brock Lesnar — when you come, bring that brand new WWE title because I feel like being a WWE champion too! Bring that belt with you if you come to my house.
Official Result: Daniel Cormier def. Derrick Lewis by submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:14 of Round 2