On Oct. 6, in a span of five minutes, Derrick Lewis managed to show exactly why he is such a star among ultimate fighting fans.
And, he manages to help his popularity grow.
Time was running out for Lewis, the UFC's no. 2-ranked heavyweight, in his match against Alexander Volkov that night. Over the contest's first 14 minutes and 43 seconds, he had been thoroughly beaten. Lewis landed, Volkov connected on approximately three. Defeat turned inevitable.
And then came the thundering right hand, which landed flush on Volkov's jaw and sent him crashing to the deck.
Amid gasps and cheers from a sold-out T-Mobile Arena crowd in Las Vegas, Lewis following up on his devastating ground-and-pound. Volkov had no answer. Only 11 seconds left, but referee Dean could not let the action continue.
Derrick Lewis had turned into an almost-certain loss into a stunning victory.
But it was what happened next to that really endeared Lewis to fans. Ashe paraded around the octagon in celebration, Lewis removed his trunks – stripping down to his underwear. After Lewis's hand was raised in victory, commentator Joe Rogan asked the heavyweight why he'd taken his pants off.
His answer, at least, what direct and matter-of-fact.
Rogan went on to ask the 33-year-old from Houston about his winning right-hand shot. Between deep breaths, though, exhausted Lewis blew the question and delivered a non-sequitur that made him an internet sensation.
"I forgot," Lewis said. "A few hours before the fight, Donald Trump called me and told me I've got to knock this Russian [expletive] out – 'cause they make him look bad on the news. You know, him and Putin and [expletive], [Expletive] what are they talking about? U.S.A. in this [expletive]. "
Incredible power. Hilarious quips. A devil-may-care attitude. All of it on display in those five unforgettable minutes.
All of it so quintessentially Derrick Lewis.
"He's interesting, is not he?" UFC president Dana White said during the UFC 229 post-fight news conference. "That guy's interesting."
With UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, White's choice was easy – bring Lewis back for a showdown with UFC great Daniel Cormier. There was some question, though, as to whether Lewis would be willing.
The subject came up in the octagon immediately after the Volkov fight, and Lewis (21-5) seemed cool to the prospect, on account of his less-than-stellar physical conditioning.
"I'm not trying to fight for a title," Lewis said. "Not with no gas tank like that."
But it's happening. Lewis reversed his position and agreed to take the fight against Cormier with less than one month of turnaround time.
So, what changed?
"It's the money," Lewis told The Washington Post. "That makes it worth jumping back in there. Is not no telling when I'm going to get another opportunity like this. "
Lewis is not one to squander opportunities. Not anymore, at least. He is a prisoner of law at Kilgore College, a community college in Texas.
The probation stemmed from a physical altercation with a man Lewis has been said to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He received two years of probation and was later sentenced to jail for the subsequent violation.
Soon after his release, Lewis was introduced to mixed martial arts. He took a couple of amateur fights in 2009 and jumped quickly into the pro ranks in 2010. His skills were obvious early on. He started his career with four out of five victories, and did not work in the amateurs.
So he caught the attention of George Foreman, the legendary heavyweight boxing champion. Foreman had wanted Lewis to pursue boxing, and even took some time to train the young fighter.
But Lewis was drawn to MMA. The victories kept piling up and eventually, he landed in the UFC. Along the way, his popularity mushroomed – thanks to his penchant for pulling shocking knockout victories, his undeniable charisma and a strong social media presence.
Among the videos he has posted in his Instagram account, which has more than 1 million followers, what footage from Hurricane Harvey, in which he saved more than 100 people by riding his truck to the edge of the floodwaters, he told ESPN.
The majority of the content on Lewis's Instagram page, though, features far more levity. The videos, which can be colorful, are not for everyone. But Lewis is not concerned about the way he is received online.
"My friends know that's the way I am," Lewis said. "That's the type of person I [am], I do not care what people think. "
Not this month, though. Since agreeing to this potential career-making fight against Cormier, Lewis has been focused on business. He's dramatically increased his time in the gym in preparation for Saturday. Lewis has never been past the fourth, but he hopes the added conditioning will sustain him.
"I used to train 30 minutes a day," he said. "But now I've been training all day long. I'm dehydrated and thirsty just talking … right now. "
It's a superior effort from a man who has been slapped in the past. And it's got the better of Lewis.
"It's really eye-opening to myself, knowing that I've just done a little more than I've done," he said. "I guess that's pretty good, because everyone underestimates me. They have not even seen 50 percent of myself yet. "
Rick Maese contributed to this report.
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