Why winning the UFC heavyweight title isn't Derrick Lewis' top priority

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

To understand why Derrick Lewis is such a threat to win the UFC heavyweight title, there must be an understanding of why he says he doesn’t care about the championship.

Lewis isn’t in fighting to be anyone’s hero, or to gain fame, though when you knock massive, highly skilled men senseless with a punch or two, you’re going to get more than your share of attention.

But Lewis doesn’t care to say, “Look at me,” with the gold title belt around his waist.

“I’m not worried about fighting for the title, because I’m worried about making as much money as I can,” he said. “That is what matters to me. This is how I support my family.”

And so Lewis knocked out Travis Browne in his last fight, despite a broken foot and two broken ribs that he suffered early in the fight. It’s painful just to breathe with a broken rib, let alone have a guy of Browne’s size kicking and punching you in the area, but Lewis didn’t quit.

No one would have blamed him, but it would have cost him money to do so, both in the bonus money he would make for defeating Browne as well as in future bouts from a new contract.

“It didn’t feel too great,” he said, deadpan, about his ribs. “It was painful, but I’ve had to deal with pain before. But I’ve been on the losing side before and I hate waking up thinking, ‘You could have done this; you could have done that.’ If you fight through it and find a way to win, then you don’t have to worry about that.”

That victory, coming with a broken foot and two broken ribs, was his sixth consecutive win, and by far his most significant. It led to a new contract that surprised him.

He said he asked for a big number and the UFC met his demand without complaint or much back and forth.

“If I would have known they would have accepted so fast, I would have told them I wanted a hell of a lot more than that, man,” he said.

Derrick Lewis is on a six-fight win streak and is ranked sixth among UFC heavyweights. (Getty)

That win also put him into the big leagues of the UFC heavyweights. He’s going to fight Mark Hunt in the main event of a Fox Sports 1-televised card from Auckland, New Zealand, on Saturday (Sunday in New Zealand) that will have major implications.

A win and, like it or not, Lewis will be squarely in the midst of title contention.

He’s constantly asked about rising prospect Francis Ngannou – “Don’t think you’re the first one to ask me about that guy,” he says, laughing. “For some reason, every interview I do or everywhere I go, they ask me about him.” – though Ngannou is likely to fight Junior dos Santos in August, so that’s out.

He isn’t looking past Hunt, by any stretch, but simply hopes to keep on the theme of fights that pay him the most.

The recent Forbes article that had UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor finishing tied for 24th on Forbes’ 2017 list of highest-paid athletes ($24 million in purses and $7 million in endorsements for $34 million total) caught Lewis’ attention.

He’s planning to come to Las Vegas to talk with UFC president Dana White soon, and joked that he wanted to ride around town in White’s Ferrari like McGregor once did.

Lewis is a massive guy and probably wouldn’t fit into the seat of White’s Ferrari.

“I wouldn’t,” he says. “It’s why I ain’t buying no Ferrari or no Bentley or no Maserati or any of them cars.”

While he’s trying to be humorous, there’s a serious side to his words, as well.

He’s planning for the future even as he enjoys his career and the attention, and mostly the money it brings. He wants to flip homes, and plans to buy two when he returns to the U.S. after the fighting.

“I’m going to buy ’em, fix ’em and sell ’em,” he said. “I don’t need any more cars. I’m fine with that. I just want to make good investments and do good with [the house-flipping] and I’m fine.”

He is confident he’ll be fine leaving the cage after his bout with Hunt, even though his broken foot is still bothering him. The bones aren’t weight-bearing and there is no great risk to him fighting with the injury, but there is a risk to getting clipped on the chin by Hunt.

Hunt is one of the sport’s most powerful punchers, and has scored dramatic, one-punch knockouts over some of the best heavyweights of recent times.

But Lewis said he likes this matchup better than when he faced Browne.

“Travis is one of the most dangerous guys in the division,” Lewis said. “He’s got a lot of power and he’s mobile. He doesn’t move like a heavyweight. He’s very athletic. Mark is more stationary and doesn’t bounce much.”

It should be a fight for the ages, as each man has tremendously heavy hands and swings for the fences. But when told it would be a great fight, Lewis joked, “I hope not.”

Asked what he meant, he laughed and said, “You want to get hit on the chin by Mark Hunt? You know what I mean? In the heavyweight division, everyone has punching power. I don’t want to take shots and prove I got a chin from any of them. No thank you.

“These guys who talk about ‘I want a war,’ or ‘I want this crazy fight,’ get out of here with that. No you don’t. You want to do what I want to do. Win the fight and get out of there without any of them big [guys] hitting me. No thank you.”