For Derrick Lewis, the fun and games only stop inside the cage

·Combat columnist
·5 min read

Derrick Lewis was sitting on the toilet, his phone in his massive hand. He was doing his business, in more ways than one. Not only was he relieving himself, he took the down time to make a few bucks.

As many UFC fighters do, he has a deal with an online betting site. And so when he needed to use the restroom, he took the opportunity to give his picks for UFC 264.

“What’s up everybody?” Lewis said, beaming. “I’m in the bathroom at the hotel, taking a s***.”

He grins that crooked grin he’s become famous for and proceeds to give his picks. He’s notoriously bad at pronouncing names, and he butchers just about every one. He doesn’t make a compelling case for any of his picks, and does just the bare minimum to complete what’s required of him.

He treats it like a joke, but no one seems to mind because the quirky Lewis treats just about everything in his life as a joke.

On Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV), he’ll fight Ciryl Gane at the Toyota Center in Houston for the interim UFC heavyweight championship in the main event of UFC 265. Lewis is the guy who, after a dramatic victory over Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 on Oct. 6, 2018, took off his shorts in the Octagon.

Asked by UFC broadcast analyst Joe Rogan why he did that, Lewis replied with a straight face, “My balls was hot.” And soon enough, he was selling T-shirts with that catchphrase emblazoned across the front.

As he made a series of jokes to what were intended to be serious questions, Lewis was finally asked if he ever takes anything seriously. Without even pausing to think, he responded, “Getting paid.”

And that, to Lewis, is what it’s all about. He was expected to rematch with Francis Ngannou, now the UFC’s heavyweight champion, at UFC 263. Ngannou, though, opted to travel home to Africa at that point rather than fight. Then the UFC wanted to make the fight for August.

Ngannou, again, had other things to do and wasn’t prepared to fight. So finally, the UFC moved on from Ngannou and decided to have Lewis headline in his hometown against Gane, the undefeated Frenchman.

It would be for the interim title rather than the full title, but if that bothered Lewis, one couldn’t tell. Asked about it, he shrugged.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I’m getting paid the same to fight Ciryl that I would have been paid to fight Francis.”

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08:  Derrick Lewis battles Ilir Latifi of Sweden during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Derrick Lewis battles Ilir Latifi of Sweden during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on Feb. 8, 2020 in Houston. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Lewis has been the unquestioned star in the buildup to UFC 265. Because he’s the hometown fighter, he’s been more in demand than usual. The Houston Astros had him throw out a first pitch at Minute Maid Park in May.

Lewis is an Astros fan and was excited by the opportunity. He dwarfed Astros star Alex Bregman, who caught the first pitch. Or, it would be more appropriate to say that Bregman picked it up.

Because Lewis’ pitch went about 40 feet or less and then spiked to the ground.

“Throwing out the first pitch was everything I dreamed of,” Lewis said. “But what happened was, mosquitoes are bad in Houston right now because of the weather. It’s humid. So, a mosquito bit me on my wrist at the same time I was throwing the ball. So, you know. Those things bite hard.”

That probably better than anything else explains who Lewis is and why he’s so popular among the UFC’s fan base. Of course, his knockout power is another, but his good nature makes him an easy guy to like.

He knows that not many outside of Houston share his passion for the Astros, who were caught in a cheating scandal that involved stealing signs and have become arguably the most hated team in sports as a result.

If Lewis wins, he’d be the first champion from Houston since the Astros won the World Series, and he’s not about to accept any asterisks on that.

“The last world championship we had [in Houston] was the Astros in 2017,” Lewis said. “Once again, I don’t give a damn what y’all say. It’s a real championship. We won it fair and square.”

To win his championship, Lewis will have to not only get by what he calls Gane’s “little fancy kicks,” he’ll have to be able to close the distance and land a strike on Gane, which not many have been able to do since Gane joined the UFC.

It’s widely regarded that Gane’s athletic style is all wrong for Lewis, but Lewis shrugs it off.

Not much bothers him and he has fun with pretty much everything he does. Even when he caught a would-be thief trying to steal his van — a guy Lewis estimated at 5-foot-6, 125 pounds, or about 10 inches and 140 pounds smaller than he is — Lewis had a good time with it.

The police were called, but Lewis physically restrained the man while waiting for them to arrive.

“I did a couple of police chokeholds on him,” Lewis said.

He’s probably not going to do any chokeholds on Gane, who is -350 favorite at BetMGM to win the interim belt. He’s going to be throwing those massive fists of his at Gane’s head with as much force as he can muster.

But win or lose, you can always say this about Lewis:

He’s OK.

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