The Ultimate Fighter
Derrick Lewis didn’t appreciate being part of the highlight reel for a virtual Mike Tyson that promoted the recent release of EA Sports’ UFC 2 video game. So once he had a copy of the game in his hand, he did what a guy nicknamed “The Black Beast” would do.
He got even. And he liked it.
“It felt good,” Lewis said of finishing 'Iron Mike'. “He was tough in the first round like I knew he would be, and I had to finish him in the second with an uppercut. I didn’t know he had that much grappling. I thought I could just take him down and try to pound him out or submit him. It’s crazy.”
Lewis laughs, continuing to put to rest the notion that the scowling knockout artist on fight night is the same person that makes his home in Texas when he’s not on the road fighting. Instead, Lewis may have the best deadpan sense of humor of anyone on the UFC roster, his Twitter feed (@Thebeast_ufc) is a must follow, and yeah, if you’re not tasked with trying to punch him in the face in the Octagon, he’s a heck of a nice guy.
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“I’m a nice guy to the people that know me,” he said. “But if you don’t know me…”
He chuckles, knowing that you know how that sentence ends. And it’s that mystery that he would like to keep attached to himself as he makes his way up the heavyweight ladder. This Sunday in Zagreb, Croatia, Lewis will seek his third consecutive win against longtime contender Gabriel Gonzaga and, simply put, he doesn’t want “Napao” thinking this is a sporting event where they’re going to be pals when the final horn sounds.
“I don’t go into a fight with the same mentality as everyone else,” he said. “‘Oh, I’ve got respect for this guy, and this and that.’ No, I don’t go into the fight like that. I go in and fight like I’m trying to hurt this guy and I don’t care if he ever talks to me again after the fight. I’m not ‘oh shake hands, good fight.’ I’m not that type of guy. If a guy talks trash to me to try to sell tickets and after the fight thinks we’re gonna be buddy-buddy, no. I take everything personal.”
Gonzaga is no trash talker, but it really doesn’t matter to Lewis, who has a single-minded plan every time it’s time to fight. Destroy. His reasoning is simple.
“Every opponent, I think they’re trying to take food away from my kids,” he said. “I think about my kids and my family and I want them to have a better life than I had. So I go into every fight like that.”
That focus is tough to get around for any opponent. Add in the motivation he’s taken in by the deaths of his grandfather and one of his first coaches, Tony Orozco, due to cancer, and its little surprise that the 31-year-old brings a different intensity to the Octagon than most of his peers.
“I feel like the suffering that I’ve got to go through in these 15 minutes can’t compare to the suffering that they went through,” he said. “They were constantly going through it, and if I can last 15 minutes of a little suffering, it’s not going to be anything compared to my grandfather and one of my close friends going through cancer.”
Motivation. Knockout power. Popularity. All the pieces are falling in place for Lewis to take the division by storm. But he needs that signature win to get into the top 15 and start calling for the big fights. He’s had his shots before, but fell short against Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione. If he gets through Gonzaga, that’s a major step.
“There’s gonna be a finish for sure and this is gonna be a good fight,” Lewis said. “I really want to finish this guy and I gotta make a statement with a big name. Every time I face one of the guys with a little bit of a name, I don’t perform like I know I should.”
Knowing it is half the solution of the problem. The other half is execution, and Lewis is all about getting the job done this time. After that, he already has his summer planned out.
“I get past him and I want to get ‘Big Country’ next at UFC 200,” he said. “That’s my plan.”
So why Roy Nelson? Because he won’t have to look to find him.
“I believe it will be a bar fight,” he said. “It’s not gonna be an MMA fight. I just want everybody to know that I’m not a mixed martial artist.”
Point taken. But Derrick Lewis is a fighter, and he’ll take that job description because it cuts away everything and gets down to brass tacks. That’s just the way he likes it, and the way the fans like him.
“I guess I’m not fake,” he said when asked about his popularity. “Everyone else is going in and saying one thing, and after the fight it’s another. If you’re gonna be some way, be that way every day. And I’m not here for the publicity, either. I don’t care about if people know me or not. I’m just going in there for my kids.”
They do know him though, and it’s only going to get bigger. And that’s okay.
“I didn’t really notice it,” he laughs. “But if it’s there, I appreciate it.”