Derrick Lewis wasn’t surprised to hear the reason behind Francis Ngannou’s baffling performance at UFC 226.
The much-anticipated battle between the two heavyweight contenders ended being a lackluster affair that saw Lewis win an uneventful unanimous decision. For Lewis, the reason for his own sluggish showing was simple: A lingering back injury flared up at exactly the wrong moment and severely handicapped “The Black Beast” throughout the match. Ngannou’s issues, however, were less physical and had more to do with his mental state. “The Predator” admitted after the fight that “fear” stemming from his previous lopsided title loss to Stipe Miocic hampered his performance at UFC 226.
That sort of honestly is rare to hear in the fight game, and Ngannou’s admission fits perfectly in line with what Lewis says he noticed from his foe at UFC 226.
“To me, whenever he stepped inside the Octagon, he looked scared from the get-go,” Lewis explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “He wasn’t the same guy that I saw at the weigh-ins. Like, his facial expressions and his emotions and everything, it wasn’t the same. So all of that right there, that threw me off in the fight too, because I didn’t believe that he was really that scared of me, but the look in his eyes, it really did show that he was scared.”
Ngannou’s timidness ended up playing out in real time. Over the course of a widely panned 15-minute affair, Ngannou landed only 11 total strikes on Lewis.
The disappointing performance came a little over five months after Ngannou sustained a brutal beating at the hands of Miocic at UFC 220 — a beating that saw Ngannou eat a grand total of 200 strikes en route to a harrowing five-round loss. And Lewis admitted that even he, too, was perplexed by Ngannou’s approach in heat of the moment at UFC 226.
“I was confused too. I tried to make him engage,” Lewis said. “I did a couple of things to try to make him engage, and he just wouldn’t do it.
“I tried to do a little bit more than him and it just was weird to me too, the whole fight, so I don’t know. I don’t know what was going on.
“I believe he was scared of taking a shot,” Lewis added.
Lewis was critical of his own performance immediately following UFC 226 and reiterated those criticisms on Monday. Still, after finally watching the fight back, Lewis admitted that he felt like some of the negativity he and Ngannou received may have been overblown. He specifically mentioned remarks from UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, who called the match “the worst heavyweight fight I’ve ever seen.”
While Lewis acknowledged that the bout was far from an entertaining one, he wondered if the vast divide between its expectations and the reality of the fight played a part in the overwhelmingly negative way UFC 226’s co-main event was received.
“I finally watched it, and I thought it wasn’t that bad. Not the way that Joe Rogan was making it sound like,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t that [bad], I’ve seen worse fights than that. By him saying that, then that’s what everybody else believes — ‘oh yeah, that’s the worst fight ever.’ Man, it’s not even the worst fight ever. The only reason why I guess they’re saying that it’s the worst fight ever is because they expected so much between me and him, they expected fireworks the whole three rounds and it wasn’t. I expected the same thing. I was disappointed that it wasn’t an entertaining fight as well.”
Lewis is currently slated to meet Alexander Volkov on Oct. 6 in the co-main event of UFC 229. A dominant win over Volkov would go a long way in advancing Lewis’ title chances and could erase much of the bad taste left in the community’s mouth from the Ngannou fight.
As for Ngannou’s in-cage trepidation, Lewis said that he has never seen anything like that from an opponent in his time in the sport.
“Never. Never,” Lewis said. “And hopefully it will never happen again.”