The UFC’s push into Europe is showing no signs of slowing any time soon.
James Elliott, the UFC’s relatively-new EMEA chief, will be bringing the UFC brand to Croatia for the first time on Sunday 10th April at Arena Zagreb in the nation’s capital city.
Sunday afternoon’s event, UFC Fight Night: Rothwell vs. dos Santos (otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 86), is headlined by a fight between—surprise, surprise—unexpected heavyweight phenom Ben Rothwell and former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos.
Being a European card, there is a smattering of the continent’s stars throughout the event—including an all-European affair as hometown hero Igor Pokrajac takes on Polish striker Jan Blachowicz on the main card.
However, it’s another heavyweight tilt that really catches the eye: Derrick Lewis vs. Gabriel Gonzaga, which serves as the show’s co-main event.
Former heavyweight title contender Gonzaga was set to face against Dagestani Ruslan Magomedov at this event, but Magomedov was forced out of the contest with a knee injury. Coming fresh off a quick, first round TKO win over Damian Grabowski in February, Lewis jumped at the chance to throw down once again just two months removed from that aforementioned victory in Las Vegas.
With a 14-4 record (5-2 in the UFC), Derrick Lewis is one of the few fighters who is as interesting outside of the cage as he is inside it—and that’s saying something considering “The Black Beast” has not went the distance in any of his wins, coming away victorious with 13 knockouts on his resume with one sole submission win rounding his record off.
Prior to fighting in the UFC, Lewis knocked out former UFC heavyweight Jared Rosholt. Rosholt was recently cut from MMA’s leading promotion despite boasting a 6-2 record in the Octagon. But, it would appear his reputation for not being the most exciting of fighters caught up with him. As you can see above, The Black Beast was less than sympathetic.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of Lewis’ superior social media game. The Houston, Texas, native has shared pictures of his bare ass sat on a fellow fighter’s face mid-fight, as well as sharing his ultra-scientific weight cutting secrets which involve... Well, to spare you any unnecessarily gory details, going to the toilet. It’s crass, but The Black Beast is simply the most entertaining fighter you could follow on social media.
Beneath that bravado is a man who possesses some serious punching power. The Rosholt victory aside, Lewis’ list of UFC knockout victims include the aforementioned Grabowski, Viktor Pesta, Ruan Potts, Guto Inocente and Jack May—coming up short against promotional veterans in Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan.
This is one of the rare instances when a late injury is of benefit to the card and the fans in attendance. While Magomedov is a good, technical fighter, his aforesaid knee injury is a blessing in disguise for this inaugural Zagreb UFC show with Lewis providing a much more interesting stylistic match-up for Gonzaga.
Lewis, however, has glaring holes in his ground game and if anyone can exploit that disadvantage, it’s fourth degree Brazilian jiu jitsu master Gonzaga.
“Nepao”, a gold medallist at 2006’s World Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships in the ultra heavyweight class, has one of the most renowned ground games in all of mixed martial arts. Boasting a 17-10 MMA record, Gonzaga has nine submission wins to his name and seven by way of knockout.
While many will expect the Brazilian to take the fight to the mat at the earliest opportunity, it’s Gonzaga’s striking exploits which leave MMA fans with one of their fondest/most jaw-dropping memories. At UFC 70 in Manchester, England, Napao was paired against feared K-1 and Pride striker Mirko Cro Cop—the pride and joy of the country in which Gonzaga will be fighting in this weekend.
Gonzaga did not fear Cro Cop’s far superior kickboxing skills and traded blows with his Croatian counterpart throughout the first round of their fight.
With just ten seconds left remaining in the round, Gonzaga unleashed a hellacious head kick with his lead right leg and starched Cro Cop, sending shockwaves across the combat sports scene on a worldwide scale. This stunning victory led to Napao’s heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture, which saw him lose by TKO in the third round of a Fight of the Night effort.
While Gonzaga is coming off a win in his latest outing against Konstantin Erokhin back in December, he has went 4-4 in his last eight fights—one loss of which came against Cro Cop, who avenged his devastating 2007 loss to the big Brazilian.
The headkick KO win over Cro Cop aside, Gonzaga’s striking has got him in trouble throughout his career – which has seen him suffer eight losses by way of knockout. With his striking defence leaving a lot to be desired and his ability to withstand punishment visibly diminishing with each appearance in the Octagon, Gonzaga would be wise to avoid getting in a brawl with Lewis by taking the fight to the floor as quickly as possible.
Lewis, however, appears to be wise to that idea, though. Speaking to MMAJunkie radio in classic Lewis canter, the American said: “There’s really nothing that concerns me. I know he’s good on the ground. I think he’s like a fourth-degree black belt. I’m sure he watched a lot of film on me. He’s going to try to take me down and try to tap me out, something like that. I’m going to be ready wherever the fight goes.
“I can be offensive and defensive in the submission game. The only reason I don’t like doing submissions was because guys always want a rematch. I don’t feel satisfied doing a submission. After my victory doing a submission, I don’t feel satisfied. But pounding a guy out is like an orgasm. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
We shall see. With a clash of styles and both heavyweights hungry to escape Croatia with the spoils of victory, you can’t miss Sunday’s clash between Derrick Lewis and Gabriel Gonzaga on FOX Sports 1.
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