UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 230 card, set to take place in New York.

Updated: Nov. 1, 2018 • 6:45 PM ET

Chris Weidman is looking to become a champion once again.

The heavyweight title will be up for grabs at UFC 230 this Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York, as dual champion Daniel Cormier will defend his UFC heavyweight belt against No. 2 ranked Derrick Lewis in the main event of the card.

Cormier will defend the heavyweight title for the first time since winning the belt at UFC 226 in July with a first-round knockout of Stipe Miocic. Cormier is also the light heavyweight champion, but he’s expected to vacate that belt to the winner of the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson fight at UFC 232 next month.

Other than a loss to Jones in 2015, Cormier has been perfect inside the Octagon. Jones KO’d Cormier at UFC 214 in July 2017 in their second encounter, but the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) overturned the result to a no-contest after Jones failed a drug test. Other than Jones, no other fighter who has faced Cormier has been able to figure him out.

Cormier had a close fight with Gustafson in 2015, but ultimately won by split-decision. The 39-year-old Louisiana native is one of the best wrestlers in MMA, gaining much of his success by simply imposing his will on other fighters. He began his UFC career as an undefeated heavyweight in 2013, but soon after decided to move down to 205 pounds, where he also quickly found success. During his first run at heavyweight from 2009-2014 (Strikeforce and UFC), he defeated fighters such as Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, Frank Mir and Roy Nelson.

After moving to light heavyweight in 2014, Cormier defeated fighters including Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson (twice), Gustafson, Anderson Silva and Volkan Oezdemir. His win against Miocic in his return to heavyweight, however, was one of the more shocking victories in recent memory, mainly due to the drama surrounding him after becoming just the second dual champion in UFC history.

If he retains his heavyweight title against Lewis on Saturday, Cormier is expected to defend the belt in a high profile fight against former champion and WWE spectacle Brock Lesnar. Yet, that fight still remains in question, and Cormier has been honest about who he wants to fight with retirement approaching.

"Counting the Lewis fight, I think I'm down to two fights left," Cormier told ESPN last month. "Maybe this will be a blessing in disguise, the fact that I don't have a crazy, long fight camp to beat myself down. That may prolong it for me, but right now, I think I have this one and maybe one more.

“I can still fight in March and hit my retirement date. The one opponent that would matter to me most is Jones, because he's beaten me twice."

Cormier added, "The one that would mean more financially would be Lesnar. I think I would always pick the one that means more, but my wife might have something to say about that."

If Cormier retains against Lewis and the following fight is about legacy, a third fight with Jones makes sense. If his next fight is for financial reasons, then Lesnar would be the obvious choice, as the professional wrestler/mixed martial artist is still a pay-per-view draw despite not having fought in the UFC since 2016.

Not only will Cormier be fighting on short notice at UFC 230, but he’s also still recovering from a broken hand that he suffered while fighting Miocic. However, it’s unlikely that either of those issues will affect his performance, as Cormier has proven he’s one of the most durable fighters in UFC history.

The biggest mistake Cormier could make on Saturday is taking Lewis’ power for granted; but given that he’s also one of the smartest fighters in MMA, that’s also unlikely. Injuries and intelligence aside, Cormier will still have his hands full on Saturday.

Lewis, otherwise known as “The Black Beast”, has used devastating knockout power and fan-pleasing character to earn a title shot. The 33-year-old is 9-1 in his last 10 fights and coming off a shocking comeback win against Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 last month. Volkov completely dominated the fight, but Lewis landed a giant right hand with less than 30 seconds remaining in the bout and finished Volkov in dramatic fashion.

He didn’t stop his assault at the knockout, proceeding to give one of the best post-fight interviews in UFC history — even taking his shorts off and gaining more fans in the process. Lewis’ personality has shined in key moments, and UFC 229 was the perfect platform to use that personality to earn a title shot.

Lewis has a brief history with the champ, as they had a comedic verbal back-and-forth at a UFC 226 press conference, during which Lewis claimed he was mad at Cormier for disrespecting Popeyes chicken. He’s a definite underdog, but Lewis doesn’t care about the odds.

“I think Cormier is gonna come out and try to wrestle me, try to get me tired and try to push the pace, really,” Lewis said on the Rich Eisen Show late last month. “I know he might not say that I’m on his level, but I think I am but he thinking that I’m not, really. He’s thinking that it’s gonna be an easy fight for him, thinking that I don’t train hard like he does. Just because he’s an Olympic wrestler, he’s thinking that it’s gonna be an easy fight for him.”

Lewis is 21-5 overall and 12-3 in the UFC with victories over Volkov, Francis Ngannou, Marcin Tybura, Travis Browne, Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga. He doesn’t have a specific style that he adheres to, but he’s a brawler who leaves it all in the Octagon.

The style has been effective for Lewis, but one that Cormier will most certainly have a strategy for. A Lewis victory would shock the world and completely change the complexion of the heavyweight division, but it would also enhance the personality at the top of the rankings. Hence, the UFC is in a win-win situation.



Co-main event

Saturday’s co-main event will be a middleweight fight with major title implications between No. 3 Chris Weidman vs. No. 5 Jacare Souza. The winner of the fight could be the next to fight for the title and face the winner between champion Robert Whitaker and No. 4 Kelvin Gastelum.

Weidman, a former middleweight champion, is coming off a win over Gastelum by third-round submission in July 2017. The victory was much needed, as Weidman rode a three-fight losing streak into the bout, but a thumb injury has sidelined him since. He was originally scheduled to fight Luke Rockhold at UFC 230, but an injury forced Rockhold withdraw from the fight.

Rockhold took the title from Weidman in 2015, and a rematch has always been on Weidman’s agenda. Souza, who was already on the card, stepped in for Rockhold, saving Weidman’s chance to prove he deserves a shot at the title he used to call his own.

The UFC granted Weidman an immediate rematch with Rockhold at UFC 199, but he pulled himself from the fight with an injured back just two weeks before the bout. Michael Bisping stepped in on short notice to face Rockhold, and the middleweight division hasn’t been the same since. But with Whitaker as champion, Weidman believes he’s closer now than ever to another title shot.

"I was obviously close to fighting for the title before this fight, beating [Kelvin] Gastelum and finishing him,” Weidman recently said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. It was between me and him, who was going to be fighting [champion Robert] Whittaker. They decided to go with Gastelum."

Weidman has victories over Gastelum, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva (twice), Mark Munoz and Demian Maia. On Saturday, though, the 34-year-old from New York will have his hands full with one of the best grappling and submission artists in the UFC.

Souza is coming off a split decision loss to Gastelum in May, a fight many people thought he won. He has been close to a title shot since emerging in the UFC in 2008, but has come up short when it has counted. Souza’s last three losses, which have come to Gastelum, Whitaker and Yoel Romero, all would have likely produced title shots had he claimed victory. The 38-year-old must defeat Weidman if he ever wants his shot at the title.

Souza is 3-2 in his last five fights, but he has key victories over Derek Brunson (twice), Vitor Belfort, Tim Boetsch, Gegard Mousasi, Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy. Weidman would represent the biggest victory of his career, because it would likely represent the win he needs for a shot at becoming a UFC champion.



The rest of the main card

The main card will also include a middleweight fight between No. 7 David Branch and Jared Cannoneir. Branch was originally scheduled to fight Souza, but when Rockhold dropped off the card, Souza took the spot against Weidman, so the UFC quickly kept a fight alive for Branch with Cannonier.

Branch is coming off a big win by first-round knockout over Thiago Santos in April. The 37-year-old from the Bronx, N.Y. originally made his UFC debut in 2010, fighting four times before joining and fighting for different organizations. He’s the former middleweight and light heavyweight champion of WSOF.

Branch made his return to the UFC in 2017 and is 2-1 since. Another win would keep Branch’s contender status intact in a division that will go through changes by the start of 2019. He has victories over Santos, Krzysztof Jotko, Yushin Okami and Vinny Magalhães. He has had little preparation for Cannoneir, who will bring a completely different style than Souza to the fight.

Cannonier is riding a two-fight losing streak and has fallen to 3-4 in the UFC. A win over Branch would be the biggest of his career, but he hasn’t been able to put anything together against tougher competition. Cannonier fell short in fights against Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes, all of which would have solidified his position as a legitimate contender.

The main card will also feature a middleweight fight between Karl Roberson and Jack Marshman. Roberson is 2-1 in the UFC, but coming off a loss in his last fight by first-round submission to Cezar Ferreira. Marshman is 2-2 in the UFC, but also coming off a loss, this to Antonio Carlos Junior by first-round submission in October 2017.

The main card’s opening fight will also be in the middleweight division between No. 6 Derek Brunson and No. 9 Israel Adesanya.

Brunson is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Souza in January. The loss snapped a two-fight winning streak, which Brunson needed being 2-3 in his last five fights. The losses have come to Souza, Whitaker and Silva, so nothing to scoff at, but he cannot afford another loss. Brunson has victories over Lyoto Machida and Uriah Hall, and a win over a rising undefeated challenger such as Adesanya would put his name back in the title conversation.

Adesanya is 14-0 and 3-0 in the UFC, coming off a dominant performance against Brad Tavares in July. He has had a long pro fighting career with six professional boxing matches and 81 professional kickboxing matches, having won the Glory 34 middleweight tournament. A win over Brunson would represent his biggest MMA victory to date and further extend his soaring contender status.


FS1 Prelims

Featherweight fight - Jason Knight vs. Jordan Rinaldi

Women's flyweight fight - No. 4 Sijara Eubanks vs. No. 7 Roxanne Modafferi

Featherweight fight - Julio Arce vs. Sheymon Moraes

Welterweight fight - Ben Saunders vs. Lyman Good


UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims

Lightweight fight - Matt Frevola vs. Lando Vannata

Featherweight fight - Shane Burgos vs. Kurt Holobaugh

Bantamweight fight - Brian Kelleher vs. Montel Jackson

Heavyweight fight - Adam Wieczorek vs. Marcos Rogério de Lima

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