‘This is my prime’: Derrick Lewis has ‘something special’ in store for UFC on ESPN 56 main event

Derrick Lewis thinks he’s currently in the best form of his fighting career, despite his record showing otherwise.

Former heavyweight title challenger Lewis (27-12 MMA, 18-10 UFC) has lost four of his past five bouts dating back to February 2022 as he enters Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 56 main event with Rodrigo Nascimento (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), which takes place at Enterprise Center in St. Louis (ESPN, ESPN+).

The rough run of results hasn’t held Lewis back too much, though. The all-time UFC knockout wins record holder is about to enter the second bout on an eight-fight contract he signed last summer, and is days away from his 11th octagon headliner, which is tied for the second-most of any active UFC fighter behind only Jon Jones (19).

Only so much losing can happen for even the most beloved fighters on the UFC roster, though. At 39, all the on-paper trends are going against Lewis. Yet, his optimism about his future prevails.

“I’m more excited about this fight than any other fight I’ve ever had,” Lewis told reporters at UFC on ESPN 56 media day. “I trained my butt off for this one, and I don’t have no injuries coming into this fight. I’m feeling healthy. I’m less than 10 pounds away from making my weight already. And usually I’m like 15 pounds, 20 pounds before weigh-ins. I’m less than 10 pounds right now from making weight.

“I’m feeling great right now. I actually really feel like this is my prime. Whenever I was in my 20s, early 30s, I didn’t feel this good. Now I’m feeling fantastic right now.”

Lewis’ positive perspective is all the more intriguing considering he’s coming off arguably the most frustrating performance of his career. “The Black Beast” suffered a lopsided unanimous decision loss to surging Brazilian contender Jailton Almeida in November in a bout where he was controlled on the ground for 21 minutes and 10 seconds out of 25 minutes, and landed just 20 significant strikes.

According to Lewis, the adversity and turmoil he encountered en route to stepping into the cage against Almeida was significant, and it made things near-impossible to get up from bottom position.

“The only thing that was bothering me was I tore both my shoulders,” Lewis said. “Like after I signed I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll accept the fight.’ Then a few days later I tore both my shoulders doing stupid jiu-jitsu drills. My rotator cuffs on both sides. So I couldn’t really push off or throw a punch. Then even throwing an uppercut hurt it.

“Then the week of the fight, that Monday. I had two ear infections in my left ear and my right ear at the same time and I didn’t get over that until like three weeks after the fight. It was a bad performance, but I was feeling great. I was feeling great. I was surprised with myself that we even went five rounds. I was comfortable in there, but I just didn’t have any strength in my shoulders.”

Lewis, No. 11 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie heavyweight rankings, said he would like to book a rematch with Almeida is he defeats Nascimento this weekend. He admits that he doesn’t know much about his opponent, and left the studying and game plan to his coaches.

Even if he has nothing personal toward Nascimento, there is an element of motivation with this particular matchup. Lewis has had mixed results going against fighters training out of the highly acclaimed American Top Team in Florida, and that reality is not lost on him.

Lewis thinks that the coaches from his opposing team have him well-scouted and will try to pass that knowledge on to Nascimento. But this time he has a response in store.

“They got it out for me, especially over there at American Top Team,” Lewis said. “Every Brazilian I’m fighting is coming from over there. But those guys, they get them in pretty good shape coming out of American Top Team. So I know they’ll have this guy ready. They know what’s up. They’ve been fighting me for so many years coming out of that gym, they know my style I’m pretty sure. But it’s going to be a completely new style coming into this fight.

“I want to do something special. I’ve been working on it on my in my garage. My coach don’t know nothing about this. So what I’m about to throw out the first minute of my fight, my coach don’t have nothing to do with it. So if you all see me throw something crazy, just know it wasn’t my coaches idea. It’s my idea. That’s how good I’m feeling right now.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 56.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie