But he never had the chance. Cormier just would not let Lewis up off the deck. A rear naked choke finished the job at 2:14 of the second round — with Lewis submitting for the first time as a professional.
It was a somewhat disappointing outcome to a fight which was slapped together at the last-minute, with the UFC 230 card badly in need of a headline attraction. Cormier, one of the best to ever grace the octagon, entered with a decided advantage in every category save one — power. And that provided the intrigue for this match: Could Lewis land his one big shot?
Cormier quickly put that question to rest
“If you have a puncher’s chance ... that’s not enough,” Cormier said. “You have to be one of the best in the world to even compete [with me]. And Derrick is good, but just not that level yet.”
Now, the 39-year-old Cormier — who has insisted he will retire once he turns 40 — appears to be headed for a big-money showdown with Brock Lesnar — a fight he’s had his sights set on for some time.
“Let’s go!” Cormier said when asked by Joe Rogan about the prospect of facing Lesnar. “Let’s go, Brock!”
If Cormier holds to his word, that showdown figures to be his UFC swan song. The sport would not be the same without him.
UFC 230: Daniel Cormier vs.Derrick Lewis
Daniel Cormier (22-1) def. Derrick Lewis (22-6) by submission (Rear naked choke at 2:14 of round two).
Round 2: Lewis takes a home run swing about 30 seconds into the round and misses. It’s a frightening reminder for Cormier that it just takes one shot from Lewis to end it. But he can’t land that shot from the ground. And that’s exactly where he is once again, as Cormier gets his third takedown. He’s got side control, and now he’s got Lewis’s back. The challenger is in a dangerous spot here. And there it is! Cormier applies the rear naked choke. And that will do it. Lewis taps out. Dominant victory by submission for the UFC legend Cormier.
Round 1: Underway at Madison Square Garden. Three kicks to start the match for Lewis, perhaps somewhat surprisingly. That would seem to open him up to a Cormier takedown. And there it is. With not even a minute gone by, Cormier has this fight on the ground, right where he wants it. Lewis can’t land one of his punishing right hands from down there. Cormier has top position, and is controlling the action. Lewis manages to get up, but Cormier gets him right back down. Cormier has Lewis’s back — and he lands some strong ground strikes. All Cormier in the opening round. He was dominant, and fell just a fraction short of a 10-8 round. 10-9 Cormier.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV: FS1 (prelims), PPV (main card) | Stream: UFC.TV
With UFC 230 badly in need of a headline bout, Dana White’s choice was easy — bring back Derrick Lewis for a showdown with UFC great Daniel Cormier. There was some question, though, as to whether Lewis would be willing.
The subject came up in the octagon immediately after his previous fight, on Oct. 6, at UFC 229, and Lewis (21-5) seemed cool to the prospect, on account of his less-than-stellar physical conditioning.
But it’s happening. On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, after Lewis reversed his position and agreed to take the fight against Cormier with less than one month of turnaround time. What changed?
“It’s the money,” Lewis told The Washington Post. “That makes it worth jumping back in there. Ain’t no telling when I’m going to get another opportunity like this.”
Main card (10 p.m., PPV)
Daniel Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis
Jacare Souza (26-6) def. Chris Weidman (14-4) by technical knockout (2:46 of round three)
This was an outstanding fight to cap off the quartet of middleweight contests leading up to Cormier vs. Lewis. Both men showed why they were ranked in the top five coming into the night. This one was contested at a high level. Souza stepped up the tempo early in the second round, and his aggression paid off. He was relentless, fighting through a bloody nose to land big shots. Surprisingly, given both men’s proficiency on the ground, most of this fight was spent standing up.
The fight ended controversially — with Souza landing a crushing right hand to Weidman’s temple, which dropped him instantly. Souza, the No. 5-ranked middleweight, knew he had landed the finishing blow and he pleaded with referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight. But Miragliotta let the action continue and Souza got a couple of more shots in on a thoroughly defeated Weidman. It was a poor stoppage. Weidman didn’t have to take those last few punches.
Nonetheless, a big win for Souza — who stamped himself as a major player at 185.
Jared Cannonier (11-4) def. David Branch (22-5) by technical knockout (0:39 of round two)
Mild upset here, as Cannonier takes out the favored Branch with a terrific second-round flurry. Branch’s intent was clear from the get-go: He wanted the fight on the ground. But Cannonier was able to get to his feet and stay out of trouble. Then, an overhand right square on Branch’s chin knocked him down and set up the barrage that followed. Cannonier finished off his victory a series of hammer fists and elbows — enough of which landed to force the stoppage. Cannonier, like Karl Roberson, figures to land in the top 10 when the new middleweight rankings are released.
Karl Roberson (7-1) vs. Jack Marshman (22-8) by unanimous decision
Marshman showed incredible toughness and a great chin. But that was about all. Roberson dominated this one from beginning to end. The left hand counter shot was money in the bank for Roberson — who thwarted the rare Marshman attacks with it. Roberson overcame a right knee injury to coast through the last round. He got the fight to the ground about halfway through the third, and that’s where it stayed. Certainly not as head-turning of a performance as Israel Adesanya in the preceding match, but Marshman might well crack the middleweight top 10 after this.
Israel Adesanya (15-0) def. Derek Brunson (18-7) by technical knockout (4:51 of round one)
Exciting opener to the main card as Adesanya kept his perfect record intact with a superb flurry late in the first round to defeat Brunson. Adesanya, the No. 9-ranked middleweight, landed a knee square to Brunson’s jaw with fewer than 40 seconds to go in the round, and Brunson never recovered. Adesanya showed terrific finishing instinct to close out the contest, landing several more knees and a series of punches. A right-left combination finished the job for Adesanya, who handled his step up in competition well. He seems primed for big things at middleweight.