First things first: Anyone who is not UFC heavyweight challenger Derrick Lewis, do not read this. Hit the little ‘x,’ turn off the monitor, throw the phone on the ground – I don’t care, just stop reading, now. This isn’t for you.
Hey, Derrick. What’s up?
So, in a matter of days, you’re going to be fighting for the UFC heavyweight title. You. Derrick Lewis. Pretty crazy, right? I’m sure you’re very excited for this opportunity (and I’m excited for you!) but there must be some nerves as well.
I mean, damn. When Joe Rogan suggested the very notion of a title shot after your last fight, less than a month ago, weren’t your exact words, “I need to sit my black ass down and do some more cardio”? And didn’t you then, hoping to sort of breeze past the conflicting ideas of “sitting down” and “doing cardio,” go on to say, “F-ck, what you talking about right now? I ain’t trying to fight for no title right now, with no gas tank like that”?
You gained approximately nine million Instagram followers after that interview – and the knockout preceding it – but apparently no one in the UFC front office was paying attention. Because UFC 230 is right around the corner, and your name is on the poster. The other name on there, of course, is Daniel Cormier – which also happens to be the name of the heavyweight champ. And you don’t have to lie to me; more than the belt itself, I know it’s the guy holding it that makes you really anxious.
On the one hand, he is pretty small for the division – and being extraordinarily huge is kind of your main thing. On the other, he got that belt by knocking out one of the greatest heavyweights in UFC history (quite possibly the greatest). Oh, and he’s not just ‘the right size’ for the next weight class down. He actually holds that title, too. Realizing this, you probably took a quick look back at your own record, and…
Damn. It seems like every time you fight a quick, little guy, he ends up knocking you out. Worse, Cormier is an Olympian wrestler, which means he actually might not self-destruct within seconds of grabbing onto you. He also seems like a pretty good dude, like yourself. And that makes the prospect of punching him much less satisfying.
The thought of cramming your ass into an economy class seat for two hours to go and fight this guy? Shiiit, it’s almost too much to bear. There’s less than two weeks till the fight, now, and you were probably hoping to spend a good chunk of it in bed, on the toilet, and just generally avoiding the gym. But, here you are.
Here we are, I should say, because I’m not writing this missive to tear you down and poke holes in your confidence. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m here to tell you not to change a thing in preparation for this fight. Nothing.
I mean, it’s been working pretty well so far, right? Even you have to admit that your success up to this point has been nothing short of remarkable. Think about it. You’ve had 15 fights in the UFC (which is super impressive in and of itself) but you’ve been victorious in all but three of them. That’s a winning ratio of which most UFC fighters can only dream.
True, things were a little rocky early on, when you were still operating under the assumption that you, Derrick Lewis, should be trying to fight like a normal heavyweight. With that loss to Shawn Jordan, you were just 3-2 in the promotion.
After that, however, you figured out the secret. In fact, my friend, you figured out the whole damn game. And here was the revelation: it turns out that all you needed to do to win almost all of the time was… almost nothing.
In a division defined by bad cardio and spotty output, you have become a master of minimalism. You throw just about five and a half strikes per minute, and you don’t really bother with avoiding the ones coming back your way. So, you eat almost one punch for every one that you throw. (And we are talking mean averages, here. We both know that, in your fights, whole minutes devoid of any meaningful activity aren’t exactly uncommon.)
In the early days, before you learned how to temper your swangin’ & bangin’ with long periods of wheezing and wincing, things were harder. That’s when the little dudes were knocking you out. Now, though, you spend an awful lot of time doing nothing at all and –thank God for heavyweight – very few of your opponents have understood how to deal with that.
One obvious advantage of this shift in strategy has been all the downtime it’s afforded you. Freed from the expectation of offensive output, you don’t really need to train cardio (which sucks, anyway). It’s incredibly cool how you’ve gotten away with spending just one hour a day in the gym, during camp.
As for the other poor fools in this division, stuck doing roadwork and burpees and God-knows-what-else (while their social media presences whither and their fridges remain tragically full of beer), all of their hard work is wasted against you, now.
First they try hitting you. Usually they succeed. Then they try it again. And within the first few minutes of the fight, they usually feel like they’re about to knock you out any moment. Just as you expected.
That’s when you throw something back at them. It doesn’t matter what it is (though smart money’s on an impractical flying high kick). It doesn’t even really matter if it lands, since even the breeze off a missed punch is enough to take the five o’ clock shadow off the faces of most heavyweights. All that matters is that the other guy is immediately filled with fear at the mere thought of letting you throw something else. Anything else. Especially not another flying high kick.
It is at this point that the normal heavyweight usually tries to take you down. Again, this seems like a good course of action, at first. After all, you don’t really know how to wrestle –per se. You’ve heard of such things as ‘sprawling’ and ‘underhooks,’ of course, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort to invest in those skills when you’ve been obliterating the heavyweight division without them – and Jesus, your back hurts, doesn’t it? As for grappling, your greatest advancement on the mat was the day you watched Gulliver’s Travels (the Jack Black one) and found yourself positively inspired by the part when Gulliver (Jack Black) easily stands up despite all the tiny ropes holding him to the ground.
Most of your opponents don’t seem to have seen this film, because they insist on exhausting themselves trying to hold you down until you get bored enough to just… stand up. Seriously, man, there’s a whole highlight reel of you being out-grappled only to casually return to your feet, often with an entire heavyweight still draped across your back.
At this point, one of two things will happen: Sometimes, the other guy stands up along with you, only to realize with dismay that he is now every bit as tired as you have been since the first minute or so of the fight. Otherwise, he flops to his back in the scramble, and you end up top. Now, he’s really screwed.
Rather than describing in detail what happens when you end up on top (like you don’t already know – you see their faces every night, don’t you?) I want to congratulate you on your most clever workaround, by far.
When most fighters think about striking, they’re all but overwhelmed by all that there is to learn. Once they get all of the staple techniques out of the way – jabs, uppercuts, slips, rolls, pivots, sidesteps, and jumping front kicks – they still have to figure out how to arrange them. There’s so much thoughtful preparation, careful timing, and split-second decison-making that goes into becoming a decent kickboxer that any man who didn’t have to learn it all simply wouldn’t.
And Derrick, my friend, you wouldn’t, haven’t, and don’t. As it happens, sitting your 260-pound ass on top of an exhausted opponent and then smashing him to pieces with the unholy power of an ancient god doesn’t require much in the way of training or technique. And since practically everyone you fight eventually stumbles, wide-eyed and screaming, into the only kind of fight you know how to win, it makes sense not to learn any of the other techniques, either.
So what can Daniel Cormier do to you, really? Outwrestle you? The man was barely capable of taking down Jon Jones, and he’s barely half your size. Is he gonna knock you out, like he did Miocic? Good luck to him. No one’s managed that feat since you found your inner peace and stopped letting them. And there’s no way Cormier can scratch that indefatigable calm in your gentle heart; the zen state of mind which persists no matter how miserable the expression on your face – nor how badly you need to crap.
If Cormier thinks he knows how to ‘embrace the grind,’ let’s see how he feels when, after four rounds of Sisyphian struggle, he realizes that he has only ensured that there are now two gasping, overweight dad-bods in the cage – and only one of them is Derrick Lewis.
It’s you. You are Derrick Lewis. You are the Great Equalizer. And all you have to do is keep on keepin’ on. Because – let’s be honest – your success has already been so fantastically improbable, your abilities so astronomically beyond human ken, that to try improving anything at this point would really just be looking a gift horse in the mouth, wouldn’t it?
So don’t change a thing, baby. Just be you. And after just twenty to twenty-four minutes of periodic, brutal punishment, you, Derrick Lewis, will be the heavyweight champion. You deserve it.