In a collision of heavyweight contenders, both Derrick Lewis and Fabricio Werdum are at a tipping point in terms of moving forward toward a title shot.
In recent days, the UFC 216 fight between Derrick Lewis and Fabricio Werdum has taken on new importance as both fighters are looking to get back on track following high profile losses. Both men are short strides away from legitimate title contention, as they are from falling well out of the rankings.
Until last week, the story going into the fight was whether Werdum would be able to use his more versatile skill-set before Lewis would be able to overwhelm him with his powerful swings. However, Werdum’s altercation with Tony Ferguson at the UFC Media Luncheon has turned the discussion towards the latest of misstep in what is increasingly becoming more behavior than error.
Several times, Werdum used the term maricon which means fag in Portuguese. He gave the explanation that it is a term commonly used in Brazil and that he is no way discriminatory toward individuals depending on their sexual orientation. The flaw in his statements is that he is a fighter who is known to be well-versed in multiple languages, has lived in America for some time, and is aware of the elevated standards of being a public figure for an organization like the UFC. Furthermore, he used the term again on social media towards Daniel Cormier seemingly without cause.
He is a former heavyweight champion who arguably was one victory away from being a candidate to rematch Stipe Miocic had he defeated Alistair Overeem in July. Instead, he is now 1-2 in his last three fights and discussion leading up to UFC 216 is about his public statements rather than speculating if he will display the skills he showed when he toppled Cain Velasquez. At age 40, it raises the question if he has single-handedly ended his chances of ever returning to prominence. He has long pushed to get his job as an analyst back. With more fighters looking to try their hand at television, however, FOX and other broadcast partners may feel that he is too much of a risk to ever put back at a commentators desk.
By comparison, the affable and borderline crass Derrick Lewis goes into the fight as an endearing hero. In the last several months, videos have come out showing Lewis in his native Houston helping out stranded citizens who were victims of Hurricane Harvey. At a time when athletes have never been more criticized in America, he stands out for taking action by personally going into damaged areas to give his assistance.
Inside the cage, he is looking to rebound from a tough loss to Mark Hunt back in June. The durable Hunt proved too much for Lewis and finished “The Black Beast” in the fourth round, snapping Lewis’ six fight win-streak. Prior to the loss, talk had heated up about a possible meeting between Lewis and fellow knockout artist Francis Ngannou. Instead, Ngannou has moved forward toward a title eliminator with Alistair Overeem while Lewis looks to rebuild his standing.
A victory for Lewis would be huge, especially in the event of an injury or other circumstance. Fights with Ngannou or Overeem would bring guaranteed fireworks and he’s a fighter who likes to stay active. It is difficult to imagine Lewis hypothetically filling in for Overeem in December should he emerge from Saturday healthy.
For Werdum, a win over Lewis keeps him in the top five of the heavyweight division and close to a title shot should there be a shake-up at the top. A loss would be his second in a row and put him at 1-3 since 2016. A veteran of the sport, a loss would likely end Werdum’s time of being part of the round-robin with the heavyweight elite and put him against the hungry up-and-coming contenders looking to break into the ranks.
Stylistically, it is down to the discipline of Werdum in closing the distance against Lewis. “Vai Carvalo” possesses a more diverse arsenal on the feet and he remains one of the most dangerous grapplers in the heavyweight division. The key is whether Werdum will be able to close the distance to take down Lewis and to avoid his counters. On the feet, he takes a lot of risks in the pocket where Lewis is known to take risks and throw with abandon. Lewis will look to follow his proven strategy of looking for heavy punches. “The Black Beast” does his best work against the fence where his size makes it difficult to escape out the side door and he should look to implement the same plan against Werdum.
Currently, Stipe Miocic is seemingly two wins away from sweeping the elite of the division. There is still hope that a healthy Cain Velasquez returns in 2018 to give fans a classic heavyweight clash. If that does not come to pass, Ngannou, Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura are all working their way up the ladder to have their own shot at the champion. For Lewis and Werdum, UFC 216 serves as their last chance to determine where they stand going into 2018.
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