Ariel Helwani: It’s time to draw attention to Derrick Lewis
Ordinarily, such a win – which would have been his fifth in a row – over a high-profile opponent like Lewis would result in a title shot. But with Jon Jones It was clear that Blaydes would either have to wait a while or stay active as the title shot wasn’t going to come his way anytime soon.
So much for that.
To be honest, Lewis was way too overlooked in this fight. Maybe it was because he’s already fought for a UFC title and Blaydes hasn’t. Maybe it was because Blaydes looked pretty dominant against every opponent he faced in the UFC Francis Ngannou. Or maybe it was because we prefer the wrestler to the striker in heavyweight matches.
Regardless, most of us, including the odds makers in Las Vegas, did a disservice to Lewis leading up to this fight. According to ESPN Stats & Information Research, Lewis (+350) had the biggest surprise at a UFC main event since then Michael Bisping Beat (+400) Luke Rockhold at UFC 199. That doesn’t seem right, but it does speak for how much “The Black Beast” was overlooked on Saturday night.
This one had to be feeling fine because Lewis doesn’t like Blaydes and was annoyed that their fight was canceled the day before their clutter in November when Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19. Also, Lewis had a terrible time in Las Vegas last week due to the devastating weather problems in his hometown of Houston.
Lewis unleashed a vicious uppercut you’ll ever see, and he dealt a few extra shots to an unconscious Blaydes afterwards (one or two too many, if you ask me). To make sure his message was being sent loud and clear, he hit a couple of WWE-esque crotch chops while Blaydes was still on the floor. If that doesn’t offend the injury, I don’t know what it is.
It wasn’t long ago (March 2019) that Lewis dropped his second in a row and seemed a bit lost on where to go from there. He has since gotten in shape, dealt with excruciating injuries and fights as usual.
It was an unexpected career for Lewis – a former convict turned truck driver, part-time fighter, and UFC contender. Saturday was his 21st UFC fight, which is amazing considering how player Brendan Fitzgerald stated on the broadcast that his original goal was to get just three fights in the octagon.
Despite this run, and much like Blaydes’ pre-fight, Lewis is aware that this will not result in another title shot. There’s simply no way the UFC will miss booking Jones against the winner of Stipe Miocic Ngannou, and rightly so. This is a massive fight that should be fought as soon as possible.
So who could be next on Lewis’ hit list? There are only two options:
1. A rematch against Alexander Volkov. Remember, when they fought at UFC 229, Volkov was seconds away from winning a decision before being knocked out by Lewis. This was the infamous “My balls were hot” fight. Have fun.
I don’t think you can go wrong with either option. Both are fascinating – Volkov because he looked so good against it earlier this month Alistair Overeemand next weekend’s winner because it would be a new challenge for Lewis.
After the win, Lewis said he wanted Overeem next. This is a fight Lewis has wanted for a while. I’m sure Overeem would be down too, but I don’t like this fight for Overeem next, considering he just beat Volkov. After all, Lewis hits very hard.
As for Blaydes, this is devastating as he was close to a big fight and there was only one fight left for his UFC deal. Had he won this one and his next, he would have tried to get a big deal before fighting for the belt. Now he’s staring at one final fight still on a contract after it was knocked out and, as he told me earlier this week, a non-existent, somewhat frosty relationship with UFC President Dana White. He is in a difficult position.
Maybe a fight against the loser of the main event next weekend makes sense, but that should take a while. Blaydes has to rest after such a knockout.
Speaking of contracts, Lewis is now entering the final battle for his deal with a lot of momentum on his side. Earlier this week he spoke of how he would need a big win for this final fight to make money. This message made little difference in the MMA message cycle as we were all focused on the Blaydes situation.
Jeff Wagenheim: Kunitskaya sends a message
Yana Kunitskaya surprised many with a dominating performance on site against Ketlen Vieira. Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC
Amanda nuns will be defending her UFC featherweight championship in two weeks. She also owns the bantamweight belt and hasn’t put that title on the line since 2019. In the time since then, a line of £ 135 competitors has formed. On Saturday night, Yana Kunitskaya stepped forward in line.
All fights in UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Lewis can be viewed on ESPN +.
• • Curtis Blaydes versus Derrick Lewis
• • Ketlen Vieira vs. Yana Kunitskaya
• • Charles Rosa vs. Darrick Minner
• • Aleksei Oleinik versus Chris Daukaus
• • Phil Hawes versus Nassourdine Imavov
• • Andrei Arlovski versus Tom Aspinall
• • Jared Gordon versus Danny Chavez
• • Eddie Wineland versus John Castañeda
• • Julian Erosa versus Nate Landwehr
• • Shana Dobson versus Casey O’Neill
• • Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez
• • Serghei Spivac versus Jared Vanderaa
It was just a small step as the # 9 women’s bantamweight barely beat seventh place on the ESPN rankings Ketlen Vieira. But while Kunitskaya was among the least dominant wins of the evening, she showed an extra dimension in her game that will give other 135 pounders something to think about.
Kunitskaya, with a background in Taekwondo and Muay Thai, was always at her best in a stand-up match. But Vieira, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, wouldn’t benefit from any of this. She took the fight to the canvas early and held it there for most of the first round. However, Vieira was unable to make a submission.
Then the fight went straight back to the mat at the start of the second round, but this time Kunitskaya came out on top. The 31-year-old Russian stayed there for most of the lap, causing far more damage than Vieira. By the time the fight was in the final round, Vieira seemed to realize she needed to get to the top, which she did – until Kunitskaya reversed position in the last 30 seconds, enough time to cause the bloody damage that was her brought in the fight.
Kunitskaya had a 47-7 lead on major hits and a 215-35 lead on aggregate hits, which is impressive. More impressive: she landed most of those shots while fighting on screen. In this way, Kunitskaya sent one of the best grapplers in the division – if not the best – a message to everyone above her.
Marc Raimondi: Aspinall is the most suitable heavyweight expert on the roster
After a big takedown, Tom Aspinall forces Andrei Arlovski to knock over a naked choke on lap 2.
Tom Aspinall had two first-round placements against modest competition in his first two UFC bouts. The UFC doesn’t actually show fights, but Aspinall did them Jake Collier and Alan Baudot look like what boxing calls “opponents” – guys who are supposed to beat competitors. Andrei ArlovskiIt’s not a showcase fight, however. He may no longer be an elite, but the former UFC champion is a tough goalkeeper willing to deter potential clients from rushing to the top tier of the heavyweight division.
Aspinall showed on Saturday that he doesn’t have a mediocre perspective. He’s legitimate – the most polished heavyweight offspring on the UFC roster. No disrespect for Chris Daukauswho stopped Alexei Oleinik with beats on Saturday. Daukaus is 31 years old; Aspinall is only 27 years old, a relative baby in the heavyweight division where the top contenders are older. Aspinall’s quick hands found Arlovski’s chin in the first round. Then, after a boxing match, Aspinall took Arlovski down and choked him out. Arlovski had only been submitted once in his career Josh Barnettwho is one of the best heavyweight submission artists of all time.
The UFC really seems to have something here in Aspinall, and it could be a boon to promotion in the UK. Picture Aspinall in a big fight on a map led by his teammate Darren Till in her hometown of Liverpool? That would be massive. And after this victory over Arlovski, the Scouser will probably only have big fights ahead of him.