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Derrick Lewis aiming higher than the ‘black-on-black crime’ of a Francis Ngannou fight

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Derrick Lewis picked up a massive statement win at UFC Fight Night 105 when he battled back from adversity and scored a highlight-reel knockout over Travis Browne, cementing himself as a contender to watch in the UFC heavyweight division.

The fight-ending finish followed a harrowing opening round that saw Lewis badly hurt to the body, and while most fighters would rather win cleanly than face the kind of danger Lewis overcame, “The Black Beast” is happy with the way things played out at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Canada.

“I’m glad the fight ended up the way it was, especially the first round and everything,” Lewis said Monday on The MMA Hour. “He was looking good, and I’m glad he got the chance to show everyone that he’s still the old Travis. Because I didn’t want to go out there and really just demolish the guy in the first round, really, because I don’t want the critics to be like, ‘oh, he’s still training with Edmond (Tarverdyan), so that’s the reason why Derrick went out there and did what he did.’

“I wanted him to have the best camp of his life. I didn’t want no excuses, no excuses at all, because I believe … that in this division, he and Cain (Velasquez) are probably the only ones who can really give me any type of trouble. Because Travis is like more of a 205er, 185er, because he moves around really good, real technical; he doesn’t move like a heavyweight. So I believe that he (and Velasquez) are the only ones who can really give me problems.”

The victory over Browne was made even more impressive by the revelation that Lewis broke his right foot in two separate places midway through the first round. That fact, coupled with Browne gravely hurting Lewis to the body in the opening minutes, put Lewis in a come-from-behind type of situation from the very beginning of the fight. But the 32-year-old said he wasn’t shaken by the circumstances.

“Not at all,” Lewis said. “I’ve been in deep waters a bunch of times in my fights. I told my coaches and I told a couple of fans and I told a couple of reporters before the fight, I could be in trouble in the first or second round, and in any fight, just know that beast mode is about to kick in sooner or later.”

Not surprisingly, in the days since the fight, Lewis has garnered nearly as much attention for his post-fight interview as he has for his winning performance. In a live interview with UFC commentator Brian Stann on FOX Sports 1, Lewis railed against Browne for the past domestic abuse allegations lobbed at Browne by his ex-fiancé Jenna Renee Webb.

Webb never officially filed charges against Browne and the UFC cleared the heavyweight of all wrongdoing in 2015, but as an individual who grew up in a household consumed by domestic violence, the situation was a personal one for Lewis.

“Since I was probably eight years old, just about everyday, all the way until I was 14 or 15 years old, just about everyday my mom and my stepdad would roll around in the living room fighting,” Lewis said. “It was all the way until I was like 13. Back then I just used to just try to, like, pull my mom off, pull him off my mom, and just cry and stuff like that. And whenever I was 13, then I just started swinging on him whenever he started attacking my mom.

“That’s one of the reasons why we moved to Houston,” Lewis continued. “We were living in New Orleans. That’s the reason why we moved to Houston, to get away from him.

“[My mom] knew I was going to kill him if we didn’t move to Houston. She said she’d seen that look in my eyes, that she knew I was going to kill him. And I believe I was too, so everything happens for a reason. So I thank God we did move out of that situation.”

Despite Browne’s innocence in the eyes of the law, Lewis maintains his belief that Browne is a guilty man.

“I know just about everything that really goes on with domestic violence,” Lewis said. “Of course, especially with a guy like Travis being in the spotlight, and this and that, and his wife saying maybe he didn’t do it or whatever, maybe he did it, who knows. But I believe that he did it.”

Either way, there is little doubt that the win at UFC Fight Night 105 boosted Lewis’ stock higher than it has ever been before within the UFC heavyweight division.

The heavy-hitter has now won a division-best six consecutive fights, with five of those victories ending in vicious knockouts. Lewis said after the Browne fight that he hoped to challenge the winner of this week’s Alistair Overeem vs. Mark Hunt bout next — although he also has heard cries within the MMA fanbase for a bout against the heavyweight division’s only other up-and-coming prospect: Francis Ngannou.

“Because this America, you know they like to see black-on-black crime,” Lewis said jokingly. “They thrive on that. They love it.

“Since me and him are ranked close to each other, I would like to fight someone who’s more of a challenge, and I believe Mark Hunt is more of a challenge. Me beating Francis is not going to really boost my stats or anything, get me closer to the belt, because he hasn’t really fought the top guys yet. He only fought one guy. But he is running through guys.”

Despite his request for the Overeem-Hunt winner, Lewis said he would be more than willing to fight Ngannou if that’s what the UFC asked.

He hopes to be challenging for a title “by the end of Christmas” this year, and while Ngannou may not have a top-three standing in the UFC’s media-generated rankings, the UFC marketing machine is beginning to get behind Ngannou, as the Frenchman is already scheduled to have his own media day during UFC 209 fight week.

“The only reason why he’s doing that is because he’s a clean-cut guy,” Lewis said. “He talks right to the media. He ain’t like me. I speak my mind too much, and the UFC probably don’t really like that. But I really don’t care.”

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