There’s no doubt Derrick Lewis will always be able to attract viewers. One of the all-time great personalities of the sport, there are some who want him to win his fights strictly in hopes of hearing what he has to say afterwards. Some of his great quotes were that he was holding his stomach in the fight because he “had to make a boom-boom” and wondering where “Ronda Rousey’s fine ass” was at.
There’s also the immortal “my balls was hot.” Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten many of those interviews as of late. Lewis has lost three of his last four. No disrespect to Sergey Spivak as he has been on an incredible run and deserves a crack at the best the division has to offer, but this contest is all about Lewis. Does he still have what it takes to at least be competitive with the top of the division? We’re about to find out this weekend at UFC Vegas 65.
Derrick Lewis vs. Sergey Spivak
There’s a long list of things we could point to for Lewis’ recent decline. Does he have the fire in his belly to compete any more? Lewis has made a pretty damn good living in the sport. Given he never had much of a fire for the sport itself – Lewis always said he was in it for the money – it’s reasonable to suspect he is fat and happy at this point. There’s also the fact that Lewis’ chin has completely eroded. He’s never been a defensive savant and has maintained one of the busier schedules. He’s taken a lot of damage over the years. Perhaps his back issues have finally caught up with him. It’s all hard to say....
There are a couple of other things that could be pointed out. Each of Lewis’ last three losses came in front of a live audience in Texas. Lewis has admitted to feeling pressure to perform well in front of his home state. Perhaps even pressing things to the point he isn’t performing to the best of his abilities. Also, did y’all see the names of those who Lewis lost to? Cyril Gane is by far the most technical striker in the division and isn’t a pillow-fisted striker. As far as Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich go, they are two of the hardest hitters in the sport. There’s no shame in having your block knocked off by either man.
In other words, if Spivak is going to beat Lewis, it isn’t going to be in the same manner as the recent men who handed Lewis his most recent L’s. To be fair to Spivak, he has improved exponentially on the feet. He can make quality use of his lanky frame at this juncture, fighting some on the outside with a developing jab. It used to be all he could do was operate in the clinch in hopes of securing the takedown where he could execute his vaunted ground game. The Moldovan has a heavy top game that tends to wear down opponents enough in hopes of securing a submission.
There’s serious questions to how effective that will be against Lewis. Aleksei Oleinik, perhaps the greatest submission specialist in heavyweight history, wasn’t able to submit Lewis. It could be argued Oleinik was well beyond his prime and Lewis is further out of his prime, but I have a hard time believing Lewis can’t continue to bench press his opponent off him when he decides that’s what he wants to do. And while Daniel Cormier may have been able to smother and submit Lewis, Spivak isn’t anywhere near the wrestler Cormier is.
Even if Lewis is losing his fire, it’s hard to believe he’s lost any of his power. Lewis is always just one punch away from ending a fight. And Spivak doesn’t have the power of those who have recently put Lewis away. Plus, people tend to underestimate Lewis’ fight IQ. Remember how he waited for Curtis Blaydes to shoot for a takedown before knocking his block off with an uppercut? Plus, without the pressure to perform in front of his home crowd, I expect Lewis to settle down and find the finish. Lewis via KO of RD1
Ion Cutelaba vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu
There may not be a fighter who exemplifies pure aggression better than Ion Cutelaba. The Moldovan rarely takes a step backwards, even when it would so clearly be beneficial for him to do so. Given the book is clearly written on Cutelaba at this point, it has made it easy for his opponents to prepare for him. I’m making it sound easier than it actually is given Cutelaba is exceptionally strong and is one of the better wrestlers in the division. Of course, his aggression in pursuing takedowns has got him caught on his last couple of outings.
It’s hard to believe Kennedy Nzechukwu will be able to capitalize in the same manner Ryan Spann and Johnny Walker did as the massive 205er hasn’t displayed much in the way of submissions. Nzechukwu doesn’t have the striking craft of others who have been able to avoid losing to Cutelaba. What Nzechukwu does have is a surprisingly deep gas tank and incredible natural power when he let’s his power fly, meaning he could put a beating on a gassed Cutelaba if he can survive the opening round.
There are some contests where Cutelaba remained effective into the final round, but Nzechukwu’s big frame will require a lot of energy to move around. Regardless, I don’t trust Nzechukwu’s ability to stop takedowns and I don’t think he’ll survive Cutelaba’s early onslaught. Cutelaba via TKO of RD1
Chase Sherman vs. Waldo Cortes-Acosta
The UFC sees something they like in Waldo Cortes-Acosta. Otherwise, I don’t know if we’d see him back in the cage after less than a month from his last appearance. There’s no doubt there is some raw skills to work with, but his official UFC debut also exposed his inexperience in a BIG way. He did walk away with a win, but he came this close to losing, all because he didn’t have an answer Jared Vanderaa landing low kicks over and over.
Chase Sherman is better known for his boxing than he is for throwing low kicks, but he’s more than capable of throwing his fair share over and over again if he opts to make that a priority. In other words, there is a crystal clear route to victory for Sherman as it’s hard to believe Cortes-Acosta will be able to fully address that issue three weeks after his last fight. That hardly assures Sherman wins as Cortes-Acosta does have power and Sherman’s chin is on the fragile side. Throw in that Sherman is more of a volume striker than he is a power puncher and it looks like Cortes-Acosta will have 15 minutes to connect cleanly.
Then again, based on the little that we’ve seen from Cortes-Acosta, I’m not sure he has the gas tank to go hard the entirety of the contest. Sherman via TKO of RD3
Muslim Salikhov vs. Andre Fialho
The UFC tried to turn Andre Fialho into one of the next big things, allowing him to rack up two KO’s in the span of three weeks. He tried to secure a third in just under two months, but ended up on the wrong side of the highlight reel that time around.
The Portuguese striker isn’t waiting too long to try to get back to winning ways, meeting the aging Muslim Salikhov. There’s no doubt Salikhov is the better technician of the two, preferring to sit on the outside and fire out kicks and jabs with the occasional powerful burst. However, Salikhov is now 38-years-old and has shown signs of physical decline. Never a great athlete to begin with, the Russian has less of a margin of error than ever before. Given he traditionally flirts with disaster semi-regularly in the first place, that’s troublesome. Fialho is typically on the cagey side with his striking, but he can also get overconfident and commit mental errors in the process. And while Fialho has traditionally fallen to reputed strikers with more experience than him, he has just as many professional MMA contests as Salikhov and those fighters have also been in their physical prime. Salikhov appears to have reached the point where things are just going to get harder and harder. Against someone with the natural gifts of Fialho, that usually translates to a bad night. Fialho via KO of RD2
Jack Della Maddalena vs. Danny Roberts
There doesn’t appear to be a hotter welterweight prospect than Jack Della Maddalena. The Aussie has displayed a striking prowess far beyond his age and experience level. And while Della Maddalena doesn’t have freakish natural power, his pinpoint accuracy and exceptional technique have allowed him to secure KO’s at a clip that rivals the hardest of hitters. There appears to be some work he could still do on his wrestling and grappling, but it’s hardly a gaping hole either. Regardless, he’ll need to be careful with Danny Roberts as the former professional boxer has proven capable of snatching a win instantaneously.
Like Della Maddalena, Roberts isn’t blesses with the greatest natural power. However, he makes up for it with excellent technique. Plus, Roberts has displayed a tricky guard, something that his opposition has underestimated on several occasions. He is a bit lacking on the fundamentals on the mat, but he can throw up a submission pretty damn fast. Unfortunately, there’s a major issue Roberts has that may not be able to be resolved: his chin. Three of his five UFC losses came opponents testing his chin. For all that Roberts picked up boxing, he didn’t pick up great defense. I expect he’ll get chin checked... and the result won’t be good. Della Maddalena via TKO of RD1