Moments after losing his UFC heavyweight title fight to Daniel Cormier in November 2018, Derrick Lewis sat in a Madison Square Garden locker room with his head down. That’s when Lewis’ head coach Bob Perez put his arm around Lewis and asked him a simple question.
“Derrick, are you alright?” Perez asked.
Lewis met the gaze of Perez and calmly replied.
“Bob, I can beat that guy,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ statement gave Perez mixed emotions. He was sad to see his fighter experiencing the agony of defeat but was also proud to hear that Lewis knows what he’s capable of. It opened Perez’s eyes to just how seriously Lewis hates losing and to what lengths he will go to avoid that feeling.
Since UFC 230, Lewis has won four of five fights, including a stunning knockout win over Curtis Blaydes. He’s reestablished himself as a top heavyweight title contender and earned an interim title shot against Ciryl Gane at UFC 265.
Even though the bout with Gane will be for the interim title, Perez sees the fight with Gane as the perfect opportunity for Lewis.
“Honestly, as his coach and as his friend, it means so much to me to see him have this chance,” Perez told UFC.com. “I love the guy so much; to see where he’s been personally and in the fight game, and for him to be here fighting for a UFC title is amazing. I know a lot of people downplay the interim belt but it’s the symbolism behind it that means so much to me.”
“Win or lose, he’s already won. He’s winning at life and I’m just super excited for him.”
The outstanding bond between Lewis and Perez started eight years ago and it’s only strengthened through wins, losses, injuries, and knockouts. In those eight years, Perez has never seen Lewis in the positive mental state that he’s in heading into UFC 265.
In years past, Lewis would train three or four times a week, but in the lead-up for UFC 265, Lewis has been in the gym for six sessions a week. On top of that, Lewis will let Perez know that he feels like he isn’t doing enough and then go on 20-mile bike rides late at night just to get extra work in.
Seeing Lewis in such a determined state gives Perez confidence that Lewis will be able to get past Gane on August 7. Defeating Gane is something that no mixed martial artist has been able to accomplish and a win over France’s rising star is exactly the type of magic that Perez believes Lewis is capable of.
Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis
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Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis
“Gane is a real guy. He’s a true martial artist and I’ve studied everything about him,” Perez said of Gane. “He beat some very good guys and he’s earned this interim belt shot. He’s a hot fighter right now and this fight is all about power versus finesse. One of the biggest factors in a fight, no matter the weight class, is the knockout. Although Gane is a finesse fighter, he absolutely has knockout ability, but not like Derrick. No one has knockout ability like Derrick and that’s always the difference.”
Another factor that Perez sees making a difference is that the fight is taking place in Lewis’ hometown of Houston, Texas. “The Black Beast” will have the full support of a sold-out Toyota Center behind him when he makes the walk to the Octagon this weekend.
“All the stars aligned and it just kind of happened perfectly,” Perez said regarding the location of UFC 265. “Derrick has never lost at home, and we don’t plan on losing this one. With the Houston energy behind him, wow, I think this walkout for him is going to be monumental. The vibe is going to be insane and it’s going to be a really proud moment for me as a coach and friend.”
There is no doubt in Perez’s mind that everything is coming together perfectly for Lewis. He had an amazing training camp, he’s healthy, his mental game is on point and there’s nowhere in the world Lewis would rather fight than in Houston.
For Perez, it simply feels like it’s Lewis’ time.
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“Derrick is going to be in the best shape he can be in and he’s going to fight the best he can. I honestly think it’s written in the stars for him. I think he’s destined for greatness, and this is the next step for that. He was made for this.”
Make sure you tune in to UFC 265 on PPV to see Derrick Lewis put it all on the line for the UFC interim heavyweight title. The main card starts at 10pm ET / 7pm PT, with the prelims beginning at 6:00 ET / 3:00 PT.