On paper, Derrick Lewis emerged from his latest fight as a winner.
But he, and everyone watching the UFC 226 co-main event, are probably going to want to forget that his performance on Saturday ever happened.
The crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was forced to entertain themselves by flashing their cell phones in the air and doing the wave as Lewis and opponent Francis Ngannou engaged in a listless three-round affair that had all the makings of a heavyweight classic when it was first announced. Both men are known for their prodigious finishing power, but neither pulled the trigger this time around.
At the evening’s post-fight presser, Lewis sounded defeated, and not like a man who managed to take a unanimous decision win over a fighter fresh off of a UFC title challenge. If anything, the disappointing contest had Lewis feeling like he’s even farther away now from his own championship opportunity.
“It was a terrible performance,” Lewis said. “I know I say that a lot but it was a real bad performance. I know for sure I don’t deserve a title shot. I believe it hurt me more than it helped me, even though I got the win. I believe it set me probably about two fights back.”
Lewis has now won two straight fights and eight of nine. He’s been one of the most active competitors in the UFC heavyweight division over the past few years, despite having to deal with lingering back issues that forced him out of a bout with Fabricio Werdum last October.
That injury appeared to rear it’s ugly head in the opening round of Saturday’s fight, severely limiting Lewis’s options.
“For sure, my back was killing me,” Lewis said. “All I wanted to do was just sit down and stay on that bench.”
While Lewis can point to a bad back as one reason why he wasn’t his usual self, the reasons for Ngannou’s struggles remain a mystery. He threw and landed even less than Lewis, seemingly content to search for a counter-punch that never came and accept a loss on the scorecards.
Lewis has spent plenty of time running Ngannou down in the past, but he put no blame on the native Cameroonian for their forgettable fight.
“Nah, I believe it’s all my fault because I’m the one that called him out and I should have really pushed the pace, but I also had to fight smart too because he is very dangerous on the feet,” Lewis said.
According to Lewis, his team’s preferred strategy wasn’t to stand and bang with Ngannou anyway. In addition to staying away from Ngannou’s powerful left hand, Lewis was also instructed to use some wrestling to foil Ngannou, just as Stipe Miocic had done to Ngannou at UFC 220.
That strategy was never going to work for Lewis.
“Really, the game plan was to take his ass down, and I already told my coach I don’t know how to take down,” Lewis said. “I don’t know how to do takedowns.”
Though he cracked his fair share of jokes at the post-fight presser, Lewis admitted he would have to get serious about fixing the holes in his game and taking care of his health if he is ever to become a serious contender. His wife wants him to deal with his back problems before taking any other fights and his doctor told him that he needs to lose weight to alleviate some of the stress.
Time off might be exactly what Lewis needs, especially since he knows he’s not in any position to call for a marquee opponent given the tepid response to the Ngannou fight. It was an embarrassment that he is determined to never experience again.
“My ass needs to sit down somewhere and learn some more technique or something,” Lewis said. “I don’t deserve to call anyone out with a performance like that. I don’t care if he is the No. 1 contender. I believe I shouldn’t be fighting no one, really, with a performance like that.”