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UFC 230: Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis for UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden, and everything you don’t about good wholesome fun.

Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis headlines UFC 230 this November 3, 2018 at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

One sentence summary:

David: Heavyweights levees contain what’s left of the division’s fight sanity

Phil: Carls Jr vs Popeyes in the title fight heavyweight deserves, nay needs.

Stats

Record: Daniel Cormier 21-1-1 NC | Derrick Lewis 21-5-1 NC

Odds: Daniel Cormier -605 | Derrick Lewis +505

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: Cormier could have been the Dan Marino to Jon Jones’ Joe Montana - difference being, this is the universe where Montana went on to snort weed, and smoke lines like the world was brought to us by Rockstar Games. Now Cormier is a two-division champion, and MMA’s charismatic leader. I’m here for this. I’m here to listen to him talk intelligently about his opponents, root for teams I’ve never heard of because I don’t care for college football (why do you think I’m always talking about hockey?), and just be the likeable human being that he is. On top of being an all star on the All-Violence Team. I’d like to think that the UFC knows what it has. This is the fighter who doesn’t turn into a free agent. This is the fighter (like DJ) who isn’t a movie of the week. I just hope he stays. Obviously, real sports have to worry about these things.

Phil: It’s hard to think of a more heartening turn-around in the sport than Cormier’s. It wasn’t that long ago that he was sobbing in the cage while Jon Jones celebrated, seemingly relegated to that Franklin / Benavidez territory as a permanent second place. Then Jones popped, again, and Cormier took back the light heavyweight strap, then knocked out Miocic for good measure. This feels like the victory lap of his career, where he’s gotten past the brutal matchups and the wars with P4P greats, and he’s now just getting paid and having fun fights. Lewis has a strange knack for making fights against him not fun, however.

David: At 9-1 in his last ten, good luck trying to hold back Lewis in any capacity. The big-bodied heavyweight and instagram star is an interesting fixture in the division. He’s a rolling boulder of violence who never quite builds enough momentum to let the fight take its course. Instead he zigs with his bowel movements, and zags with his opponent. The thing I love most about Lewis is that it’s rare for a fighter to be funny without being mean-spirited. Some guys can pull off mean-spirited. Michael Bisping made it work a few times. I’m not saying ‘mean’ doesn’t have space in comedy. But I wholly welcome Lewis’ goofy brand of playfulness and debauchery: dude cracks me up.

Phil: Lewis is someone who clearly enjoys playing up everyone’s perceptions of him. Being huge, ponderous and fearsome-looking gives him a free license to say outrageous shit without anyone being quite sure that he means it. He has a whale of a time being the huge unfiltered guy, and shocking everyone with deadpan one-liners. “‘Cuz my balls was hot.” He has a tragic hero’s backstory (went to jail young, lost his trainer, helped out his community in the Houston floods, fights to make money for his family) but little of that makes its way into MMA, because I suspect he just doesn’t care all that much. This sport is for knocking people out and messing with them, and nothing more important than that. Who is to say that he’s wrong?

What’s at stake?

David: It’s rare for such a big fight to have such non-linear implications. A Cormier win can either descend into typical UFC madness (Brock Lesnar), ascend into the ultimate heavyweight test (with Jon Jones moving up), or we can deny it all completely when Dana trades Stipe for Fedor. Who the hell knows these days.

Phil: It’s a big risk for Cormier. He’s on top of the world right now, and no matter how they spin a loss to Lewis, it represents a big step back for him. That being said, should Lewis somehow pull out the win, then a Brock-Lewis fight would be everything dumb and glorious about this division.

Where do they want it?

David: Cormier’s a brilliant wrestler, dogged in the clinch, casts punches like a Sambo acolyte, occasionally thinks he’s Bruce Lee, yea yea yea. Listen, I think you’re great, Phil. If I were ever in the UK, I’d offer you some Popeyes for a REAL buttermilk biscuit: not some lameduck scone that doesn’t have the decency to clog an artery. But these previews are more fun when we’re talking about what we can’t see, and analytical blindspots. In Cormier’s media scrum, he talked at length about how much he knew and scouted on Lewis. He didn’t just have a lot of intelligent things to say about Lewis personally, but it’s clear how serious he takes scouting. Unfortunately we don’t have a way to measure this except via wins and losses; which isn’t good analysis. But it’s what we have. To that end, kudos to Cormier for recognizing the typical trappings of mixed martial arts. I’ve always felt like MMA coaching suffers from a Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen — a phenomenon Eddie Bravo and Brenden Schaub themselves confirmed. As a result, you end up with fighters improving where they’re weak, and the pull from their coaches on improving a fighter’s strengths depends on what type of coach has the most influence like some sick game of Marionettes; whether the striking/wrestling/grappling coach, or as was the case in Cain Velasquez’ case — the extreme training choreographer. Scouting helps clarify a lot of technical sophistry, softening the blow of someone training your instincts out of you. It doesn’t just work functionally, but philosophically as well. The results speak for themselves. There’s nothing Cormier could have done to beat Jones, and they were great fights regardless. My point, here? Cormier succeeds because no one ever arrogantly coached the efficiency out of him.

Phil: Cormier’s main trait at both light heavyweight and heavyweight is one which is perhaps even more pronounced in the division of the big men. He is fast. He might not be the cleanest kickboxer, and he might lean and flail whenever he gets hit in striking exchanges, but his hands are blazing quick, and his feet aren’t generally far behind. In general he shares a lot of strengths and weaknesses on the feet with Khabib: insulated by extreme athleticism and the fact that almost no-one can contest his wrestling, his striking and defensive deficiencies are rarely effectively exploited. He struggled to outwrestle Jon Jones, but it’s hard to think of anyone at heavyweight who could replicate that kind of performance. Curtis Blaydes perhaps? Someday? So we’re talking someone who is too fast for most heavies on the feet, and can outgrapple most of them should they lock up with him. There are reasons to be concerned with his durability: he’s been hurt in almost every one of his recent fights, but there are also reasons to assume that he takes a better punch at this weight class.

David: I don’t have Lewis figured out, except where he counts. He’s every character you’ve ever seen in martial arts and Christopher Nolan films: the reluctant hero. Except instead of appropriating Asian culture, or taking us through the innermost psychology of a costumed vigilante by showing us how he figures out purchase orders for masks, Derrick Lewis just wants to micturate on time, and mix his edibles and his coition. Because of this, we see the man more than the fighter. I can’t remember the last time Lewis wasn’t metaphysically challenged to overcome some biological obstacle. It’s refreshing, but you have to wonder how long it’ll last. Surely you don’t expect me to believe that his fight with Volkan was in the bag? Maybe. Or maybe Lewis is just a flawed power puncher who can’t hide his vulnerability. I do think he’s technically solid, though. It all gets sort of ignored due to his raw power, but a lot of how he approaches offense comes from — I believe — a very technical standpoint.

Phil: Derrick Lewis fights like the son of some mythical being who has been forced into fighting to make his dad proud. He’s like black Hercules, compelled to perform feats of violence in order to gain back favour with Zeus, while visibly and tangibly hating the whole enterprise. He squints, he sighs, and he plods fatalistically around the cage. He cringes away from any and all strikes from a Volkov jab to a Nelson right hand not because they (in recent years) seem to actually hurt him all that much, but because this kind of thing sucks. Why won’t these mortals just leave him alone? So his general modus operandi is: get hit on the feet, and recoil with the resigned, horrified irritation of a beloved family pet being attacked by a toddler. This makes people feel like they are close to finishing him off. They are mostly wrong! He’s also a mediocre to terrible wrestler, so when opponents get in close with him they get bizarrely effortless takedowns. This makes them feel like it’s a good idea to keep him down. This is also mostly wrong! As the fight drags on, those easy striking victories start to fade away, and the wrestling becomes harder to come by. Eventually the mortal in the cage comes to the sinking realization that they’ve just spent a full round going strength-for-strength with a deity. And then they get knocked out. I often wonder whether it’s gamesmanship, and I think that may be part of it, but honestly it’s more likely that Lewis is just... that guy.

David: Those opening sentences are the single greatest description of a fighter. Ever. You win the internet for today, Phil.

Insight from past fights

David: Catalog everything throughout these fighter’s careers, and a pattern emerges: Cormier kills with quickness. Lewis gets killed by quickness. This fight outcome is practically a math equation. And it’s not a slight on Lewis. Even the best fighters have difficult stylistic matchups. Lewis could be as technical as Demetrious Johnson, and even more powerful than he already is, and Cormier would still be the favorite in my view.

Phil: Shawn Jordan, Matt Mitrione, Mark Hunt. Quick heavyweights that Lewis couldn’t lower the boom on with a big right overhand because they were too fast, or too short, or a combination of the two. In general his lackadaisical wrestling defense also seems like it might be exposed more than it normally is. It’s one thing to tire out regular heavyweights by just being MORE. STRONG. than them from bottom position, and another to do that to an Olympian. Another fight to think of is Anderson Silva against Cormier, though. It’s somewhat forgotten, but it’s worth remembering what Cormier did when he had a short notice fight against a dangerous opponent- he fought conservatively enough that Anderson had enough left in the tank to hurt him badly late.

X-Factors

David: Cormier’s injury is what I’d classify as the old school kind: science would tell him he’s screwed, but this is Sports. I’m not injured. I’m just hurt.

Phil: Cormier’s right hand is reportedly still compromised, and the fight itself is on short notice. Other than that, just sit back and enjoy the fight between the Daddest man on the planet and the most destructively uncomfortable fighter in the sport.

Prognostication

David: We’ve already kind of outlined it all. Cormier’s speed will come through in the end. We’ve seen Cormier kind of get taken in by the moment. His fight with Anderson Silva was somewhat uncharacteristic. Nonetheless, even an uncharacteristic Cormier is better than an uncomfortable Lewis. Daniel Cormier by TKO, round 2.

Phil: As much as I like Cormier, and as much as he deserves to win this fight on multiple levels, I have to say that I’m rooting for Lewis. The sheer incredible unlikeliness; the fact that he’d probably treat the sacred UFC belt with the same bemused resignation and a crack about sex and/or food that he treats everything. The tantalizing prospect of him doing the same thing to Brock. That said, the more likely scenario is that we’re reminded of one simple thing: Daniel Cormier is very good at MMA. Perhaps he tries to win conservatively, but I think there’s a bigger chance that Cormier gets to Lewis early and simply never lets him off the hook. Daniel Cormier by TKO, round 2.