The UFC makes its third-ever trip to Madison Square Garden this weekend, with a heavyweight title fight between two-weight champion Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis.
This fight came together quickly, on the heels of Lewis’ come-from-behind knockout win against Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 on Oct. 6. It will mark Cormier’s first heavyweight title defense, a title he took from Stipe Miocic via first-round knockout in July.
Here’s everything you need to know about UFC 230 on Saturday.
Daniel Cormier (21-1) vs. Derrick Lewis (21-5), Heavyweight championship
Odds: Cormier -650; Lewis +450
Daniel Cormier really seems to be enjoying himself.
As his decorated athletic career heads toward a conclusion next year, Cormier is at the pinnacle of his sport. He carries two UFC championship belts on his shoulders. He’s headlining the UFC’s annual card at Madison Square Garden, four months after headlining its annual summer card in Las Vegas.
Cormier, who has repeatedly stated he will retire by his 40th birthday in March, is set to do something very few fighters can: leave on his own terms. In a sport where most athletes are essentially forced out the door, it’s refreshing to see.
“Isn’t it unbelievable it took 10 years?” laughed Cormier, when asked how it feels to prepare to leave a sport, just as his stardom peaks. “Hopefully this rolls into my [post-fighting] career.”
In a way, Cormier’s previous fight — the heavyweight title victory against Miocic — was about separating himself and his career from Jon Jones. And part of the buildup to this fight has been a celebration of his ability to do that.
A mere 16 months ago, Cormier was coming off a second loss to Jones at UFC 214, and facing the reality those two light heavyweight losses would go a long way in defining his career. But in the time since, Jones was stripped of his title due to a failed drug test, Cormier was reinstated as the 205-pound champ and he went on to win the heavyweight belt, something Jones never did.
On Saturday, there is a chance WWE star Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones will be in the building for Cormier’s title defense. And if he wins, he could fight either one in a massive event. The choice of whom would presumably be up to him.
And that last part means a lot. Cormier spent years of his career chasing Jones. Even when he first became a champion in 2015, the fact he never beat Jones to do it hung over his head. Sixteen months ago, it would have been inconceivable he’d consider taking another fight if Jones was an option.
But as his career winds down, Cormier doesn’t need to chase anybody. They’re all coming to him.
“I’ve done something to the point [Jones] doesn’t dictate my path anymore,” Cormier said. “The fact I went up to heavyweight as the light heavyweight champ and won the belt, it feels good because for a long time, that’s what people thought he would do.”
• Cormier: 21-1, 1 NC (10-1, 1 NC in UFC); making first defense of UFC heavyweight title
• Cormier: 10 wins by knockout, four wins by submission
• Cormier: One of five fighters to win titles in two weight classes (one of two to hold belts simultaneously)
• Cormier: 14-0 (3-0 UFC) as a heavyweight; +93 strike differential according to FightMetric in three UFC heavyweight fights
• Cormier: No. 1-ranked heavyweight and pound-for-pound fighter according to ESPN and UFC
• Lewis: 21-5, 1 NC (12-3 UFC); last fought at UFC 229 on Oct. 6 (28-day layoff on fight night)
• Lewis: 18 wins by knockout (10 in UFC, tied with Cain Velasquez for most in heavyweight division history)
• Lewis: 7 wins in first round (none since April 2016)
• Lewis: 57 percent takedown defense according to FightMetric (allowed 24 takedowns in 15 UFC fights)
• Lewis: No. 3-ranked heavyweight fighter according to ESPN
Cormier’s historic win over Miocic in July was his first heavyweight appearance in nearly five years, but it illustrated everything we’d come to know about him as a heavyweight earlier in his career.
Even against Miocic, one of the smaller, quicker heavyweights, Cormier’s high pace appeared to be taking a toll late in the first round. Miocic was slow to the draw in a tight exchange and he paid for it. Cormier’s hand speed is still a noticeable advantage in this division, even at age 39.
Of course, the potential danger in setting a high pace is that it increases Cormier’s time in the line of fire. It’s a beautifully effective thing, wearing out these heavyweights, but it can go south in an instant if a single mistake is made. In this fight, the cautious route is Cormier’s best route.
And the cautious route would be to take Lewis down. Cormier isn’t afraid to strike with anyone and a big part of his success is that he floods you with information on the feet, which then sets up his wrestling. But his wrestling is so superior here — and Lewis’ only path to victory is arguably a big shot — Cormier may try to go straight for the takedown without the usual formalities.
One thing about Lewis, though, he’s not easy to hold down. There are moments in his UFC career in which he’s gotten himself out of terrible spots, simply by beasting his way up. He essentially bench pressed a 265-pound Roy Nelson off of him. He shrugged Jack May out of a full mount position in his UFC debut. Lewis is a big body and he’s difficult to control. He’s never fought anyone quite like Cormier, but that strength is real.
Ultimately, this one isn’t super complicated. The ways in which Lewis can win this fight are limited, and that’s reflected in the betting odds.
One thing you cannot deny Lewis has, however, is heart. And knockout power. Cormier took this fight on relatively short notice. Cormier is the better fighter and he’s too smart to make a dumb mistake, but if he gets tired trying to move Lewis’ massive frame around, or if Saturday’s the day the speed doesn’t show up as he approaches his 40th birthday, maybe Lewis has a chance.
Prediction: Cormier via TKO, second round.
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