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A heavyweight showdown between Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou has been brewing for some time, it’s finally set for UFC 226. But Lewis wouldn’t go as far to call the fight personal, and he certainly hasn’t forgotten the genesis of the matchup.
“I met him probably two years ago,” Lewis told MMAjunkie. “We’ve fought on the same card twice, in Croatia and then in Albany. I didn’t say anything bad about him. I was telling him, ‘Good luck.’ He came up to me saying, ‘Derrick Lewis, you’re my next opponent.’ This is before the weigh-in. He comes shaking my hand, ‘Derrick Lewis, my next opponent.’ I said, ‘OK, yeah. We can get it on.’
“Then after he won his fight, he called everyone out but me. I thought he wanted to fight me, so why didn’t he call me out? Then after I won, I called him out. MMAjunkie interviewed him and asked what he thinks about me. He was talking sh*t about me saying I’m too slow and this and that and that he would beat me with ease. Ever since then, he’s been talking sh*t.”
Lewis (19-5-1 MMA, 10-3 UFC) and Ngannou (11-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC) are scheduled to throw down at UFC 226, which takes place July 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass, though the fight card has not been finalized.
“The Black Beast” is no fool, and he knows fight fans wanted the Ngannou matchup. Ngannou got a title shot at UFC 220 in January but fell short to champ Stipe Miocic by unanimous decision.
Following his title loss, momentum toward a clash with Lewis picked up again. Both fighters have poked at each other through interviews and social media, and now the compelling affair is set. Lewis said his only issue is he thinks greater financial compensation should come with it.
“I just wish we were getting paid the pay-per-view points; that sucks,” Lewis said. “I don’t know why. They want us to sell the fight, but we’re not going to get paid extra? It’s stupid.”
PPV points or not, Lewis accepted the fight, and he likes his shot at winning. After plowing through the division with a lethal striking game, Ngannou’s ground game and inferior conditioning were somewhat exposed against Miocic. He received a lot of flak for tiring so quickly (even from Lewis himself), but after taking a hard loss and lesson, there’s expectation from Lewis for a superior version at UFC 226.
“I believe he’s going to come in better shape and better condition,” Lewis said. “He’s going to come in feeling like he has something to prove, like he’s the No. 1 contender and he should have won the belt. I’m sure that his coaches are going to have him ready, but I believe my coaches are going to have me ready too. I’ve been fighting for a long time, and I believe I have more experience in fighting than he has. Yes, he’s a tough opponent, and he hits hard and all that. Everyone in the heavyweight division does that anyway. I’m just going in there like it’s another fight.”
Lewis, No. 12 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, said he prides himself on being a fighter who forces opponents to change tactics against him. He said essentially every foe he’s faced in the UFC has tried to do something largely out of character from previous performances, and he wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case with No. 2-ranked Ngannou, as well.
Although Lewis, 33, said he has no hatred toward 31-year-old Ngannou, but because of all their back and forth, he’s also not one to forget the past.
“I’m just going in there like he’s anybody else,” Lewis said. “When the fight is over with, I’m not going to be shaking his hand and all that. To me, whenever a fighter tries to talk sh*t to me before a fight then shakes your hand afterward – nah. I’m not going to do all that. I’m still going to have that little grudge toward him. I’m not trying to be his friend after. I’m happy to get it over with. The fans, they wanted this fight for a long time. Might as well give them what they ask for.”
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