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Derrick Lewis (left) and Aleksei Oleinik of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on Aug. 7, 2020 in Las Vegas. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Corey Anderson (blue shorts) picks up Justin Jones in their fight during UFC 181 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Dec. 6, 2014 in Las Vegas. Anderson has left the UFC and signed with Bellator. Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Omari Akhmedov (left) and Chris Weidman face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on Aug. 7, 2020 in Las Vegas. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
The UFC’s heavyweight division is about to have its moment in the sun.
Over the next two weekends, the heavyweights will be front and centre in Las Vegas and the division is sure to look a whole lot different in a week and a half than it does right now.
That starts Saturday when perennial fan favourite Derrick Lewis takes on Aleksei Oleinik in the main event of the UFC’s Fight Night event at their Las Vegas home. It’s not a fight that has title implications, but it’s two top-10 guys squaring off and the winner should find himself in the mix for a No. 1 contender’s fight.
Then, next Saturday, champion Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier will face off for a third time. They’ve each finished each other in the octagon once, and their legacies are both tied to the way their trilogy fight goes down.
It’s a big week for the big guys, in other words.
Even Lewis, who is normally nonchalant about these things, was speaking about what he could prove in his matchup with Oleinik.
“This fight right here takes me to a different level, I’m feeling completely different during fight week than I have in the past and I just feel like I’m getting better,” Lewis said on the UFC’s Media Day Call on Thursday. “I really want to show the fans and show everyone that I have gotten better.”
Beating Oleinik isn’t going to put Lewis in line for the next shot at the UFC’s heavyweight title. Francis Ngannou has done more than enough to earn that opportunity and is waiting in the wings to be the next challenger for the belt. Nothing Lewis or Oleinik does Saturday night should change that.
But a win would put Lewis back in the mix, and a spectacular knockout would get people talking.
Lewis made his name on big knockouts. His late KO of Alexander Volkov in late 2018 was enough to earn him a title shot against Cormier.
But since that win, Lewis hasn’t finished anyone in the octagon. He lost to Cormier and Junior Dos Santos, and then secured two decision victories in his last two fights. They’re good wins, but not spectacular.
Lewis knows that, and vowed to give fans something different on Saturday night.
“I’m gonna come out b—s blazing,” Lewis said. “You’re going to see something different from me that you haven’t seen before.
“Just gonna be more active for myself instead of just being patient.”
If Lewis can do that, he’ll again be firmly established as one of the very best heavyweights in the world. That might not earn him a title shot just yet, but by the time next week’s title tilt between Miocic and Cormier is through, Lewis will be well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that are sure to open up in the heavyweight division.
On Friday morning, ESPN’s Ariel Helwani reported that light-heavyweight contender Corey Anderson had left the UFC and had signed with Bellator, the closest thing to a rival that the UFC has.
This was surprising for a number of reasons.
As Helwani reported, Anderson was still under contract with the UFC but requested his release, prompting the promotion to let him go.
Anderson isn’t a game-changing signing for Bellator. He’s not really a household name outside of the bubble of hardcore MMA fans. He was a top-5 light-heavyweight, though, and definitely had some intriguing matchups ahead of him if he’d stuck with the UFC.
Bellator has some intriguing light heavyweights of their own and Anderson will surely get a nice promotional push from his new employers.
The UFC, meanwhile, isn’t going to miss him all that much. He’s a very good fighter, but the UFC’s depth of talent is strong enough that they’ll be just fine.
None of that makes the whole thing any less surprising, though.
AROUND THE OCTAGON
The co-main event in Vegas on Saturday night will see Omari Akhmedov square off against Chris Weidman in a middleweight fight. It’s a little surreal that it’s happening. Five years ago, Weidman was considered the best 185-lb. fighter on the planet. Then, he got beat by Luke Rockhold and the wheels came off on his career. He’s now suffered multiple devastating knockouts and there is no shortage of critics who believe he should retire. He needs a win against Akhmedov, or it really might be time … The UFC announced Friday that flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo will defend his belt against former bantamweight king Cody Garbrandt at UFC 255 later this year. It’s not matchmaking that necessarily makes sense, but it also has the potential to be an insane fight. Women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will defend her belt against Jennifer Maia on the same card … Want to feel old? It’s been 10 years since Anderson Silva famously defended his belt with a Hail Mary submission of Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.
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