One sentence summary:
Phil: Comedy and tragedy weigh in equal balance in the heavyweight division, like a production of Shakespeare performed by elephant seals.
David: The Black Beast vs. The Super Samoan: Issue #1.
Record: Derrick Lewis 18-4-1 NC Mark Hunt 12-11-1 NC 1-Draw
Odds: Derrick Lewis -135 Mark Hunt +125
History / Introduction to the fighters
Phil: Derrick Lewis started off his UFC career as a .500 fighter, with a couple of brutal knockouts to Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione. Since then, he's gone on a run as been the avatar of everything that is good and bad about the heavyweight division. Ridiculous, high-octane violence, or sludgy, dull, grind-fests. For better or worse, it's still the freakshow division, and Derrick Lewis is currently the freakiest heavyweight we have.
David: Early on, Lewis profiled as ‘possibly just another dude in Kimbo’s posse’. Someone you might find at a gym, battling off-duty cops surrounded by porn producers making up the rules of a street fight as it went along. But along the way, Lewis figured a few things out about mixed martial arts, and here we are, forever indebted.
Phil: It's hard not to think about Mark Hunt with a growing sense of dread. That phoenix-like run when he saved his career on his way to an interim title fight is a long way in the rear-view mirror now. Since then, he's settled into a role as heavyweight's gatekeeper, taking over from Roy Nelson. Like Nelson, he's taken some all-time beatings, and like Nelson, he's occasionally been able to keep people interested by knocking out people who are even older and more faded than he is (Mir and Bigfoot, whereas Nelson knocked out Nog).
The Lesnar steroid controversy sounds like it has (quite understandably) left Hunt extremely bitter, and has badly damaged his relationship with the UFC. But he's a fighter, so here he is. Fighting.
David: Hunt has quickly morphed into heavyweight Diego Sanchez - plenty of spirit in the tank, but not enough durability. You can always tell when a fighter is “shot” by how much more defensive they become, and how little that defense benefits them. Still, Hunt isn’t that far removed from success. It’s clear that Hunt’s future is not long for this cage. What’s not clear is whether or not this is the perfect swan song for him.
What’s at stake?
Phil: Relatively meaningless I think. Lewis will move onto something bigger if he wins, I suspect Hunt will be kept in pretty much this spot until he retires. They won't risk him on anything like a title run. #RallyForMarkHunt no more.
David: Lewis is in good position to make a legit title run because this is heavyweight. Win or lose, he’s in a good position to tweet gold.
Where do they want it?
Phil: I don't really know where Derrick Lewis wants to the fight. His game doesn't really make enough sense for that. I suppose... on the feet? He seems to enjoy kickboxing. On the other hand, though, everyone who's tried to outwrestle him has failed despite early success, but Mitrione and Shawn Jordan finished him.
He does have good instincts, and he has a really surprisingly quick head and body kick for such a behemoth of a man. That makes it a scary proposition to fight him on the feet, regardless of technical ability. His takedown defense is fairly terrible, and his ground game is basically "stand up and try to get on top", but his absolutely overwhelming physical strength means that those trying to grapple with him tend to exhaust themselves before him, despite how inefficient his style is.
David: Ever since their new album hit last Friday, I’ve been listening to Elder. For reference:
Lewis reminds me of Elder’s hundred different hooks and riffs packed into one single: like Nick DiSalvo’s crunching licks and leads, Lewis fights with blood soaked percussion over precision. Lewis gets pegged as an aloof tactician at best - an oversized Mr. Magoo accidentally stumbling toward efficiency by bouldering past obstacles at worst. I think that’s a little unfair. In fact, I would argue it’s objectively wrong.
Lewis is a front runner who knows that he can’t always punch his way into the lead. Consider that in his last three fights, he has ‘rallied from behind’. That’s not a coincidence. Against Roy Nelson, he mined his tactical reserves for uppercuts late in the fight when Nelson’s wrestling began to take over (that’s not a punch you choose randomly in that situation). Against Shamil Abdurakhimov, he did the same thing, slowly upping the ante on his uppercut to counter the takedown entries for an eventual 4th round finish. After dropping the first round to Browne, he worked his way inside of Browne’s front kicks to land a flurry. In both of his last two bouts, it was simple, understated ground work that created opportunities: the takedown against Shamil, and the reversal on Browne.
He is, as I said, a front runner with wits. Like Elder, Lewis defies the typical conventions of heavyweight’s genre pugilism without sacrificing any of its thunder. No, he’s not man-sized Demetrious Johnson. But what he lacks in specific tactics, he makes up for in broad strategy. And yea, there’s also the part where he hits hard enough to make opponents shit their own teeth.
Phil: We know what Mark Hunt wants to do at this point- move in, bait the counter left hook or force the opponent to move in a direction where he can land the leaping left hook, or counter right uppercut if the opponent gets too aggressive and drops their head.
He's always conserved energy, and his style means that he's generally in position to take steam off big shots with upper body and head movement, and he has one of MMA's all-time great chins. So it's a style which has aged well, but... it is ageing. That sudden burst of surprising speed he used to have is all but gone. So we're looking at a fight which is all craft and fading athleticism, against all athleticism and, well, zero craft.
David: Hunt has always been a striker of aces up his sleeve. MMA fans saw highlights of that one fight against Ray Sefo where they willfully absorbed each other’s punches and assumed Hunt was some kind of action brawler. On the contrary, Mark is one of the most astute strikers MMA has ever seen. He shows MMA fighters that creating angles is less about movement, and more about anticipation. In recent years we’ve seen less of that, but Hunt nonetheless remains a master of timing. The dude could be 90 and you still couldn’t pay me enough to prank him if I thought he’d punch me for doing so.
Insight from Past Fights
Phil: If there's been a consistent weakness from Hunt it's been single leg takedowns. He's pretty tough to take down using upper-body takedowns, but he's been long vulnerable to lower body attacks. Conversely though, Lewis hasn't exactly shown the greatest chin in the UFC. I'm interested to see if Lewis tries to take it to the ground, and how.
David: The tropes of being shopworn. As I mentioned above, Hunt has shown too many signs of needing to be put out to pasture. He doesn’t recover from strikes as quickly, and absorbs them more frequently. On the other hand Lewis has been knocked out and hurt in fights where he wasn’t knocked out before - a nice setup for someone like Hunt whose power hasn’t waned.
Phil: One of the weirdest things about Derrick Lewis is how little he's been actually hit in the face in the UFC. I'm still not sure whether this is entirely due to people trying to grapple or (in the case of Travis Browne) kick him, or whether he's got some kind of secret defensive abilities which I'm not aware of.
David: Lewis’ takedowns. Any prolonged exchange favors Hunt, but Lewis is strong enough to bully Hunt onto the ground. Although it’s worth asking whether or not Lewis lost too much weight on the bike.
Phil: Hunt is the better technical fighter, by leaps and bounds. I have a bad feeling, though, that the loss of his speed has meant that he's going to struggle to put Lewis away early, and I think Hunt is getting progressively less capable of knocking people out if fights go deep. Essentially, I think Lewis might survive, then manage to drag it to the floor for a saddening GnP knockout in the later frames. Derrick Lewis by TKO, round 3.
David: Lewis has enough technical acumen to keep Hunt from blitzing him. Since Hunt doesn’t blitz anyway, he’s relatively “safe” in the early rounds. Derrick Lewis by TKO, round 2.