We have reached the end line of one other exceptional yr for the UFC. According to Dana White, 2021 was the most profitable yr in the historical past of the firm.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night inside the Apex will likely be tasked with placing a bow on this very memorable yr. And as everyone knows, a “perfect ending” could be a arduous factor to drag off. Movies, tv sitcoms, skilled sporting seasons — they do not at all times nail it. So, did the UFC nail its 2021 finale?
On its face, a heavyweight predominant occasion between Derrick Lewis and Chris Daukaus shouldn’t be the most scintillating headliner to conclude 2021. But I’ll say this: What this struggle does is supply one of the hottest fighters in the recreation, Lewis, a shot at redemption earlier than the calendar yr turns over.
Lewis (25-8) final fought in August, when he was knocked out by Ciryl Gane at UFC 265. That struggle was for an interim heavyweight championship, and it happened in Houston, Lewis’ hometown. He additionally revealed, simply this week, that the struggle happened 13 years to the day from his launch from jail when he was 23 years previous, earlier than MMA modified his life.
I bear in mind being in Houston for UFC 265 and seeing how Lewis handled the strain he had positioned on his shoulders for that struggle. For a man who has at all times stated he isn’t on this sport to be the greatest, and who has put his abilities down greater than he is talked himself up, it was apparent how a lot Lewis wished that win. He wished it for his metropolis, for his household — and I believe very a lot for himself, too.
A loss is at all times a tricky tablet to swallow. But most fighters will let you know that dropping is made a lot worse whenever you really feel you did not compete at your greatest. And that is how Lewis feels about that title struggle. He acknowledged this week that the strain bought to him. He had a recreation plan to take care of Gane’s distinctive fashion, he stated, however he did not execute any of it as soon as he bought in the cage.
Lewis is one of the most endearing figures in the sport as a result of he is sincere, forthcoming, humorous and relatable (and, of course, as a result of he hits like a ton of bricks). It’s not arduous for anybody to narrate to Lewis’ expertise in his final struggle. The second and the strain had an influence on him. He needs to maneuver on from it. He really wished this Daukaus struggle a lot prior to the date it was booked.
The stakes aren’t almost as excessive for Lewis on Saturday as they have been in his final struggle, however after his irritating expertise in his hometown 4 months in the past, you’ll be able to see what this one means to him.
Watch UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Daukaus on Saturday on ESPN+. The predominant card begins at 7 p.m. ET with prelims at 4 p.m.
The numbers matchup: 12 vs. 4
12 UFC knockouts for Lewis: That ties him with Vitor Belfort and Matt Brown for the most in UFC historical past. Four of the KOs have include Lewis as a betting underdog, together with when he was at +350 earlier this yr in opposition to Curtis Blaydes. Lewis is a +120 underdog for Saturday.
4 UFC knockouts for Daukaus: He has fought solely 4 instances in the UFC — all knockouts, three in the first spherical. Daukaus is in search of to turn out to be simply the fourth fighter to start out a UFC profession with 5 consecutive knockouts; he can be becoming a member of Don Frye, Junior dos Santos and Ricco Rodriguez.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
And the winner is …
“I think this Daukaus kid is about 235, 240 pounds on weigh-in day. Lewis is cutting to 265. You can have anywhere between a 30- to 45-pound difference of weight on fight night,” stated Eric Nicksick, coach at Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas. “I feel like when Lewis is on top of people, he’s decimated dudes. A lot of his finishes are top-side ground-and-pound TKOs. So I think Lewis getting on top could be an X-factor. I don’t know if Derrick will come out and wrestle, but if he’s throwing an overhand, can step into a body lock, get into an entanglement and end up on top, it’s not a bad thing for him.”
Check out how Nicksick and different specialists break down the predominant occasion and predict a winner.
Don’t overlook to stay round after the predominant occasion …
… as a result of Derrick Lewis often says one thing entertaining.
Derrick Lewis does not understand he is being interviewed by Paul Felder and tells the crew member backstage he wants to make use of the restroom.
Ian Parker’s greatest guess
Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus: Riding a five-fight successful avenue, all by TKO/KO, Daukaus will likely be getting his stiffest competitors thus far. Lewis, a knockout artist in his personal proper, is coming off of a loss to Ciryl Gane in an interim title bout in August. In order to get again on monitor, Lewis goes to need to keep away from an early onslaught by Daukaus, then land his personal large proper hand. Both males will likely be seeking to make an announcement, and with each possessing excessive knockout energy, I do not see this struggle making it previous the second spherical. Pick: Daukaus or Lewis in below 2.5 rounds.
How to observe the fights
Stream the predominant card and prelims on ESPN: Download the ESPN App
Don’t have ESPN+? Get it right here.
There’s additionally FightHeart, which presents reside updates for each UFC card.
Saturday’s struggle card
ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Heavyweight: Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson vs. Belal Muhammad
Strawweight: Amanda Lemos vs. Angela Hill
Men’s bantamweight: Raphael Assunção vs. Ricky Simón
Lightweight: Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Men’s featherweight: Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins
ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET
Middleweight: Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Men’s bantamweight: Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry
Heavyweight: Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker
Women’s flyweight: Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto
Men’s featherweight: Charles Jourdain vs. Andre Ewell
Women’s bantamweight: Raquel Pennington vs. Macy Chiasson
Heavyweight: Don’Tale Mayes vs. Josh Parisian
Lightweight: Jordan Leavitt vs. Matt Sayles
Five extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Stephen Thompson competes in the co-main occasion in opposition to Belal Muhammad, who’s unbeaten in his final six fights (5-0, 1 NC). “Wonderboy” has 10 knockdowns in his UFC profession, tied for the third most in welterweight historical past.
2. Amanda Lemos is a -400 favourite to increase her win streak to 5 in her strawweight struggle with Angela Hill. With a victory, Lemos would be a part of Carla Esparza and Tatiana Suarez with the longest lively win streak in the division. For Hill, this struggle is her nineteenth in the UFC, leaving her only one behind Jessica Andrade for many amongst ladies fighters.
3. Raphael Assunção has misplaced his final three fights getting into a bantamweight bout in opposition to Ricky Simón, who has received three in a row. Assunção has 11 UFC wins, tied for the second most in division historical past, one behind TJ Dillashaw.
4. Two featherweight greats will meet in the predominant card opener: Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins. Swanson has 12 UFC wins at featherweight, the third most in division historical past. The fighter above him? Elkins, who has 15 wins at 145 kilos. The all-time chief is Max Holloway, who has 18.
5. Entering the final UFC occasion of 2021, 13 fighters have accomplished the yr with a 3-0 document, however they are often joined by some others on this card who’re 2-0. That listing consists of Chris Daukaus, Muhammad, Lemos, Simón, Mateusz Gamrot and Gerald Meerschaert.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this struggle preview.