Derrick Lewis has retained his place in the top five in the heavyweight division with back-to-back wins, but can he make it three-in-a-row when he takes on Aleksei Oleinik in the latest UFC Fight Night card to take place at the UFC APEX on Saturday, August 8?
Lewis has gone 5-3 in his last eight fights inside the Octagon, but in this time he has established himself as one of the major players in the heavyweight division. A 3-0 run in 2018 that included a decision win over Francis Ngannou and an infamous post-match interview involving ‘hot balls’ catapulted him into a title shot that year, and although Lewis admitted he was not ready to be challenging a man of Daniel Cormier’s calibre, he conceded the offer on the table was too good to turn down.
What followed was what we expected – Cormier dominated the contest before forcing Lewis to tap out to a rear-naked choke in the second round, and his stock then dipped a little more a handful of months later when he was stopped by strikes in the second round of a showdown with former champion Junior Dos Santos. Lewis was able to stop the rot towards the end of 2019 when he edged a split decision win over Blagoy Ivanov, and he then followed that up with a unanimous decision win over Ilir Latifi in February that cemented his spot in the top five. ‘Black Beast’ is now probably one high-profile win away from another crack at the title, so he can ill afford a defeat on August 8.
Standing opposite him in the Octagon will be Aleksei Oleinik, who is knocking on the door to the top 10 in the heavyweight division after a red-hot start to the year. Back-to-back stoppage losses at the hands (and knees) of Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem halted Oleinik’s rise in 2019, and having gone 2-3 in his previous five fights the 43-year-old Russian knew that nothing less than a victory would do when he stepped into the Octagon with Maurice Greene in January of this year. Oleinik got the win he needed, submitting Greene to an armbar in the second round, and he them built on that in May when he fought on one of the first behind-closed-doors events hosted by the UFC.
‘The Boa Constrictor’ was paired with former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum for the Brazilian’s first fight back from a two-year drugs ban, and he was able to take advantage of ‘Val Cavalo’s ring rust in the first two rounds to earn the nod from two of the three judges in attendance. It was a huge win for Oleinik as he successfully out-struck Werdum in Jacksonville, but this is a not a strategy that he wants to try with a man like Lewis.
‘Black Beast’ has not stopped an opponent for almost two years, but he is a big man with immense power and strength that has stopped 18 men in their tracks during his professional career, and he can take advantage of the smaller Octagon to keep Oleinik in range on the backfoot throughout. It is only a matter of time before Lewis lands a big bomb and when that happens the Russian will be on his back looking up at the lights as the referee steps in to wave it off.