Nov 09, 2023, 06:28AM

The Heart of a Heavyweight

After a multi-year stretch of quitting while ahead or behind, 38-year-old Derrick Lewis survived until the final bell against a far superior fighter.

Unnamed.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

In the dark corners of the fight world where men measure courage in rounds and heart in scars, a tale unfolded that was worthy of the old pulpy pages of Nat Fleischer’s Ring magazine. This isn’t just a tale of two behemoths locking horns in the octagon; it’s a narrative of a short-notice veteran contender, Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis, with fists like cinder blocks and a somewhat suspect heart and gas tank, battling against the meteoric rise of Jailton Almeida, the ripped-to-shreds Brazilian juggernaut with eyes on heavyweight supremacy.

The anticipation for Almeida's ascent met an unexpected detour with the withdrawal of Curtis Blaydes, a powerful albeit incautious wrestler who was to test the limits of Almeida's ground game. Into the breach stepped Lewis, the man from Houston with dynamite in his gloves and a penchant for upsetting the apple cart—as evidenced by past upset wins over Blaydes and towering Russian contender Alexander Volkov. Lewis, a legend of the game himself, has always been an embodiment of volatility in the heavyweight division. The bruiser with a knack for physics-defying knockouts has seen the dizzying highs and cavernous lows of the sport, making him an unpredictable and dangerous replacement.

The bell for round one clanged, and it was clear that the crisp script written by the oddsmakers, with Almeida as the ineluctable protagonist, could be edited by the improvisational stylings of Lewis. The Brazilian, fresh off a series of performances that had statisticians rewriting records for ground control time and fewest significant strikes absorbed, was keen to add another exclamation point to his resume.

As the leather began to fly, it was apparent that Almeida’s grappling prowess, sharpened on the anvil of hard knocks and bittersweet dreams from the favelas of Salvador, was going to be pitted against occasional concussive rebuttals from Lewis. “The Black Beast” wasn’t merely there to survive but to author a different ending to the tale.

Almeida, a man who once entertained dreams of soccer stardom and now carried the heavyweight hopes of a nation that hasn’t produced a true top dog since the heyday of Fabrício Werdum, was quick to show why he, like Werdum before him, is considered a grappling savant. His takedowns were swift, his control on the mat was a symphony of strategic placement and raw strength, a physical chess match where Almeida was always a move ahead. Yet, despite the Brazilian's suffocating top game and a grappling acumen that could puzzle a python, Lewis’ meditative, lay-down defense proved its match.

Each round unfurled with Almeida in control, yet never quite secure, as if he were trying to hold onto a lion by its mane. “The Black Beast” was unyielding, his defensive grappling under short notice proving to be as impressive as any stand-up brawl from his storied past. Almeida threw Lewis to the canvas as if he were scripting his own highlight reel, but Lewis' resilience was the undercurrent that kept the audience rapt. We knew it only took one punch for circumstances to change, but would “the Black Beast” survive long enough to throw it?

The rounds progressed, with Almeida’s dominance on the mat an expected verse in the fight’s poem, yet Lewis’s defiance was the unexpected refrain. As they traded leather and leverage, it was clear that the power wrestler Blaydes wasn’t the only one who could have made a statement. Lewis was proving that even on short notice, he could take Almeida into deep waters, tainting what should have been a showcase into a testament to his own ruggedness.

The final bell's toll was a mercy for both warriors, with Almeida’s arm raised in victory but without the indomitable air the forecasters had predicted. Yes, he won every round, his skill undeniable, his future still star-bright, but this was no walkover. It was a hard-fought lesson on the unpredictability of this sport, where even the mightiest can be pushed to their limits.

Almeida’s unanimous decision was academic, but the scores didn’t reflect the intangible grit displayed by Lewis. Almeida called out for former interim champ Ciryl Gane, a move expected of a man with his trajectory. But for those who watched, this fight was more than a notch on a belt or a step on a ladder—it was a reminder that in the theater of combat, all roles are subject to change, and all scripts are prone to last-minute revisions. Unlike the massive former LSU football player Shawn Jordan, who knocked out Lewis a few years ago and told me “the Black Beast’s” strength was nothing special, Almeida was clearly a beefed-up light heavyweight facing a much more powerful man.

The post-fight statistics will show a landslide for Almeida, but the bruises, the sweat, and the unyielding spirit of Lewis told a tale of what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force. “His hands were twice the size of mine, his forearms were massive…it was all I could do to hold him down, because I couldn’t make him do what he didn’t want to do,” Almeida remarked in a post-fight interview. In the shadow of Almeida’s rise, Lewis’ sometimes-suspect heart was the true champion. 


Register or Login to leave a comment