It was one part unabashed hair-trigger reaction, another part hilarity. But 100 percent pure, unfiltered Derrick Lewis — the only way he knows how to be.
“My balls was hot,” the heavyweight infamously told Joe Rogan inside the Octagon after delivering a scintillating TKO against Alexander Volkov during the waning seconds of the third round of their UFC 229 bout on Oct. 6.
“Probably like 700,000 afterward,” Lewis told Sporting News about how many new IG followers he gained, taking the total to well over the one million mark.
Yes, the UFC 229 main event between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov and the subsequent chaotic brawl they had overshadowed everyone else on the card — except for Lewis. The combination of his vicious TKO and amusing post-fight interview kept him a hot topic of MMA and pop culture conversations into that Sunday morning and well beyond.
About four weeks later and Lewis is still hot. No, not his nether regions, but his authentic brand of raw, say-whatever-comes-to-mind realness.
Most importantly, he’s headlining UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, when he’ll take on Daniel Cormier with DC’s heavyweight title on the line. Already, he has one up on Cormier, as Lewis revealed Thursday during the UFC 230 media day that he earned an endorsement deal from Popeyes Louisiana Chicken.
Lewis brilliantly planted seeds for the endorsement deal during UFC 226 press conference back in July, when he was jokingly asked what his beef with DC is and hilariously responded with: “[Cormier] disrespected that Popeyes chicken on a commercial a few years ago.”
The New Orleans native, Houston representative joked with reporters Thursday about the fast-food franchise paying him heavily in “chicken and money” and even posted a shot of himself indulging in the chicken on his IG account. Lewis also posted a photo of an H-Town Popeyes promising people free chicken for two hours if he defeats Cormier. (No pressure, Derrick).
How much Popeyes contributed to Lewis’s weigh-in of 264.6 pounds is something only he knows, although oddly enough, he seemed to look lean on the scale Friday.
The 33-year-old Lewis’s popularity is at an all-time high, but his day-one fans know that these outlandish comments and dynamic punching power aren’t anything new.
Delve into the rabbit hole of his Instagram account and you’ll see Lewis cutting up over comical viral bloopers and memes, while routinely asking about his crush and pondering, “where Ronda Rousey fine ass is?” Although the latter is something that the UFC heavyweight’s wife has put a stop to since, as she’s tired of it, according to “The Black Beast.”
His record is as vivid at 21-5-1 NC, including an electric 18 KOs.
Through it all, he has been doing it his way by just being himself. And just because he’s headlining UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden doesn’t mean that Lewis is going to hold his tongue now.
Lewis opted to hold a Q&A session with fans instead of working out in front of them this week hours before the New York Knicks took the Garden hardwood against the Indiana Pacers. When one fan asked about Lewis’s pre-fight meal, “The Black Beast” said his wife’s backside about as casually as someone in Houston would ask for his beloved Rockets’ score of the game the next morning.
But as entertaining as Lewis is in-person, in the Octagon and online, a knockout of Cormier would be his greatest viral moment yet.
“It’d be disrespectful to the sport because I have no mixed martial art background at all,” Lewis said about the scenario of him knocking DC out. “A guy that’s heavyweight champion of the UFC, where all these great legends before me had some type of mixed martial art history/background, and [me] being a champion. It’d just be crazy.”
All knockout artists swing with bad intentions. But some hit so hard it’s as if they’re channeling their dynamic punching power; like that blunt force is coming from somewhere. Derrick Lewis falls into the latter group and it all stems from dark experiences growing up as one of seven in New Orleans, before relocating to Houston.
“It was hard, it was tough … just watching my mom getting abused every day and not be strong enough to pull my stepdad off of her … it’s just like real tough,” Lewis told Sporting News during UFC 230 media day on Thursday at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. “That’s what I think about fight night — not being strong enough or good enough to get my father off of my mom and just watching them fight for hours it seems like. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t go through the stuff I went through in my life.”
Lewis has been tried and true throughout his life, never backing down from a confrontation, whether life-altering or not.
Although he doesn’t like talking about it, while still in high school, he reportedly beat up a KKK member who Lewis claims insulted him, as reported by MMAJunkie.com . Lewis was arrested for the incident and given probation, which he violated the terms of, landing him in jail for three-and-a-half years.
The run-ins continued behind bars as a proving point rite of passage.
“I was tested a lot,” Lewis told SN about his experience. “Mostly in the County [jail].”
“One of the [fights behind bars], I remember, it was the UT game versus USC and the power went out,” he continued. “The channel went out and the radio came on. It was just the play-by-play. So, one of the guys came up and just wanted to change the channel. And I was sitting in the day room, the only one watching TV anyway, and he changed the channel while I was watching.”
Outside of jail, that might lead to an argument. Behind bars, it’s a direct violation, with the retort many times being an assault — at the minimum. And Lewis readily obliged.
“I didn’t say anything to him and he went back and got up in his bunk,” Lewis remembers. “I just pulled him by his legs from the top bunk and just started beating up on him.”
Shortly after doing his bid, Lewis directed his anger to a new outlet — boxing. He began training at a local Houston gym, where a couple of coaches approached him in roughly 2009, according to his recollection. The coaches struck up a conversation with the then-25-year-old and invited him to come spar at another gym.
“Just to see if I wasn’t good enough to fight his son in a pro match,” Lewis said.
By his son, Lewis is referring to the seed of boxing legend George Foreman.
“I wound up doing really well against the guy they had me spar and so [Foreman] didn’t want me to fight his son anymore,” Lewis added. “He wanted me to come up under his wing and teach me how to box.”
A young, hungry Lewis took Foreman up on the offer, learning to box from one of the Sweet Science’s most-feared punchers for a brief time. He’d make his pro fighting debut just a short while later during the spring of 2010, when be began working the fight circuit, which included stops at Bellator and Legacy FC, before settling in on the UFC in April 2014 and never looking back.
If fighting was one saving grace for Lewis, the other was meeting his wife, April.
“We been together for 10 years, we’ve been married for over a year now,” Lewis told a pool of reporters during UFC 230 open workouts on the Madison Square Garden floor earlier in the week.
They have three children together.
Despite getting ready to defend his title against him, Cormier can’t help but respect Lewis’s glow up the MMA ranks and life in general.
“This is a guy who went to jail as a youth, and honestly, when you go to prison as a kid — especially a young black kid — a lot of people give up on you,” Cormier told a group of reporters. “In that cell, you tell yourself a lot of things. You say, ‘I’m going to do better when I get out, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.’ The vast majority of the guys who do say those things, they never change. They go back and do the same thing. Derrick Lewis didn’t, right? Derrick Lewis became a millionaire. Derrick Lewis is fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world.”
If Cormier isn’t careful, Derrick Lewis is in position to hear “ And new heavyweight world champion” associated with his name during the wee hours of Sunday morning. And such an event would garner his most viral views yet.