Almost two years ago now, in my first piece for The MMA Corner, I wrote about Derrick Lewis, shortly after he burst onto the scene in the UFC. At the time, he was coming off his second win in the promotion, Dana White was calling him scary, and the UFC was booking him in a key match-up with Matt Mitrione. I finished off the article suggesting that Mitrione would be a good litmus test for The Black Beast — and pointing out that scary doesn’t win fights.

In the months and years that followed, Lewis brought his UFC record to 6-2, and is currently on a three fight win streak, his best in the promotion to date. He’s coming off a scary (there’s that word again) win over Gabriel Gonzaga, in which he absolutely destroyed the former heavyweight title challenger.

So is it time to reconsider Derrick Lewis’ place in the UFC heavyweight division?

Perhaps it is.

Consider this: scary doesn’t win fights, but intimidating opponents might just be as valuable as any number of slick maneuvers inside the octagon. Why? Because it changes how your opponent fights. If the fighter opposite you is concerned about having their brain liquefied by any number of thunderous punches — and Lewis has proven that nearly all his shots have power behind them — then they may not approach the fight the same way. A lesser striker may look to take the fight to the mat, or employ a more defensive, cautious style. Even a skilled striker may approach with caution, because at heavyweight, one punch can change everything. Ask Mark Hunt.

Suddenly, Lewis’ ferocity in the cage is looking very calculated, at least when you consider the effect on his opponents. He also proved at UFC Fight Night 86, against Gonzaga, that he can survive on the ground with a skilled jiu-jitsu fighter, make it back to his feet, and finish the fight. That’s a big step in the right direction for Lewis, who looks set to become a fan favorite thanks to consistently finishing fights in violent fashion.

Of course, there are still question marks. If Mitrione was the test a year and a half ago, Lewis failed it: Meathead knocked him out in 41 seconds. Another step up, against Shawn Jordan, saw similar results — a TKO loss (though to be fair, who saw Jordan landing a hook kick?).

That said, at 31, Lewis is relatively young for a division in which most top-ranked fighters are pushing forty. He has shown development, and his next opponent is likely to be another hard hitting crowd pleaser: Roy Nelson.

There’s your ultimate litmus test. Nelson’s record has been spotty of late, but it’s not for lack of effort. He’s back in the top ten after a snooze fest against Jared Rosholt in which Rosholt stayed out of range for three rounds, but before that were some great wars with Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem. Nelson’s not about to be intimated by Lewis’ striking; this is a guy who pretty much walked through the best Junior Dos Santos had to offer, and who was more than happy to stand and trade with Mark Hunt. Nelson, despite high level jiu-jitsu, is all about his right hand and pleasing fans. His style likely isn’t going to change for Lewis, which is what makes this such a good test of where Lewis can go in the division.

Scary is gone, and just an all out battle of will, power, and experience remain.

At the end of the day, predicting fights, especially at heavyweight, is a crap shoot. Having said that — if Lewis gets the Nelson fight, which both fighters are asking for, and wins, then you can start calling him a contender. Either way, he’s still scary.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.