Post-Fight Thoughts: Daniel Cormier -vs- Derrick Lewis
Even in this modern era of MMA, the concept of a "striker versus grappler" fight is still one that gets floated when describing certain fights. In spite of the clear evolution and improvement in the baseline level of skills possessed by modern MMA fighters, analysis often falls back on this trope to describe a fight. These days, it usually means one fighter prefers the ground or stand-up aspect of MMA, whereas in the past it meant they could only do one of those things. The main event for UFC 230 however, was a lot closer to the old days of MMA, as dual-champ and Olympian wrestler Daniel Cormier put his heavyweight title on the line against terrifying brawler Derrick Lewis. It's still not the same, however, as Cormier has very good boxing, even if it would have been suicide to try and beat Lewis in a stand-up battle.
Instead, Cormier did exactly what anyone with an ounce of sense would: he used his elite wrestling skills to take Derrick Lewis down with ease. Lewis had little-to-no offence, landing only a few grazing shots during the brief moments he wasn't on the ground. As easy as it was to talk one's self into believing that tonight Derrick Lewis was going to shock the world, it all fell apart the moment Daniel Cormier closed the distance and secured his first takedown. To his credit, Lewis maintained his composure and was able to get back to his feet momentarily, but DC would eventually take him back down — a process that would continue to repeat itself. The first round should have disabused anyone of the notion that Lewis had more than a fraction of a faint hope of winning this fight.
The second round was largely a rehash of the first, except Cormier sensed Lewis was already fading from his repeated attempts to power his way back to his feet. After securing another takedown, Lewis gave up his back in an attempt to scramble to his feet and Cormier seized the opening to secure a rear-naked choke and end the fight. For a last minute opponent, in a fight no one was even thinking about 32 days ago, Lewis was a game opponent — just horribly overmatched. Daniel Cormier provided yet another reminder of just how good he is; this was exactly the dominant showing that Cormier needed to put on — the champ rose to the occassion and flawlessly dispatched a surging challenger. Lewis loses little stock here, but Cormier could have lost some shine if Lewis managed to make the fight competitive, boring, or both. Losing would have been outright catastraphic for DC, at the tail end of his career.
Now that the dust has settled, Lewis goes back to scrapping with the rest of the heavyweight ranks, having picked up an extra paycheque and not taking much damage in defeat either. Lewis would be the first to tell you he wasn't ready for a title shot, in fact he said as much after knocking out Alexander Volkov at UFC 229. Still, he did his job; Lewis provided a credible threat to Daniel Cormier, who simply demonstrated the vast gulf between merely being big and tough and being an elite athlete in multiple disciplines. As enticing as it was to stoke the "but what if Lewis lands that one big punch" narrative was, everyone was snapped back to reality within the first minute of the fight. Things went mostly as I expected, although I greatly overstated Lewis' odds in my pre-fight breakdown (link) — it turns out DC really is just that damn good.
It wasn't a great main event, but it got the job done. Had things devolved into a 5-round clinching contest, or end on a foul or freak injury, then the show would have taken a huge hit. Instead, DC turned in a performance befitting a champion over a dangerous, last-minute opponent. In an era of fight camps that run 8-10 weeks, it was refreshing to see two dangerous guys stage a high-stakes fight with little-to-no advanced preparation, especially given the proximity to the UFC's 25-year anniversary at the end of the month. Daniel Cormier now goes into the record books as the only fighter to hold 2 belts and defend them both, and sets the stage for an expected showdown with Brock Lesnar in 2019. Considering DC's only losses are to Jon Jones, it's somehow easy to forget just how good of a fighter he is. UFC 230 was an emphatic reminder that Cormier is absolutely one of the all-time greats, even if the main event lacked any feeling of suspense once the fight started.
Published: November 4th, 2018.