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UFC 230 at MSG too good to pass up for both Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis

Daniel Cormier addresses the crowd after winning his

Daniel Cormier addresses the crowd after winning his heavyweight championship fight against Stipe Miocic at T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2018 in Las Vegas. Credit: Getty Images/Sam Wasson

A few dozen hours can change a man’s perspective.

Late Saturday night, here’s what Derrick Lewis said to Joe Rogan during his UFC 229 octagon interview after his comeback knockout of Alexander Volkov: “I ain’t trying to fight for no title right now, not with no gas tank like that.”

Then came Monday morning and the offer to fight champion Daniel Cormier for the UFC heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in the UFC 230 headliner.

Did Lewis, a day and a half after a grueling fight, hesitate for even a few minutes about accepting a fight against one of the top fighters in the sport now and in its history?
“Not at all,” Lewis told Newsday on Wednesday night. “Not at all. It was right away, because this opportunity might not come again. …  And in Madison Square Garden.”

Cormier needed until Tuesday to be sure. He has been recovering from a broken hand suffered in his July 7 bout when he knocked out Stipe Miocic to win the UFC heavyweight title.

“I went and punched a bag. I went and sparred a little bit. Tried to see if I could do it," Cormier told Newsday on Thursday. "Once my hand held up, I was like OK, 'I’m gonna give it a shot.'”

Title shots don’t pop up for every fighter, let alone a second such chance. So three weeks’ notice is something Lewis will just have to deal with. He didn’t seem to mind.

“I think it’s perfect because I’m already somewhat in shape,” said Lewis, 33. “They told me just in time before I started partying too hard, and get my weight way up to 300 pounds.”

Lewis (21-5, 1 no contest) has won three straight and nine out of his last 10 bouts in the UFC. Seven of those wins during this three-year run were by knockout. Lewis, as he displayed again last Saturday against Volkov, has one-punch knockout power.

Still, Lewis will be the underdog against Cormier (21-1, 1 no contest), who reigns now as both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion, both in the sportsbooks and in the eyes of those who follow the sport.

Again, Lewis didn’t seem to sweat the part about Cormier being the 1:6 favorite to start.

“I don’t care who we fighting against, I’m still going to have the disadvantage on anyone that I fight,” said Lewis, who lives in Houston. “These guys have been training martial arts probably all their life, been in some type of wrestling their whole life. I’m really a brawler.

“It’ll be an honor just to step in the same octagon as Daniel anyway. For sure, I’ll be ready.”

Cormier added the heavyweight championship to his light heavyweight belt in the summer. He became the second fight to hold UFC titles in multiple weight classes at the same time, and just the sixth fighter to win UFC titles in more than one division.

With two titles, a spot at or near the top of most pound-for-pound lists, why would Cormier agree to a fight on such short notice, coming off a broken hand and against someone with the type of power Lewis has?

“Historical importance. Getting to main event Madison Square Garden," Cormier said. "And, honestly, just a lot of money. A lot of money. A lot of money and an opportunity to main event the world’s most famous arena. Those types of things matter to me/.Being able to say that I was the main event at the Garden, those things matter to me.”

Cormier also had planned on fighting Brock Lesnar at some point in 2019, though nothing definitive was scheduled. Cormier also has said he planned on retiring when he turned 40 next March and that he also wants to fight Jon Jones once more to try to avenge his two previous losses to him, the second of which was overturned to a no contest after Jones tested positive for a banned substance after weigh-ins for UFC 214 in July 2017. (Jones faced a maximum four-year suspension by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after that, but last month, it was shortened to 15 months.)

This will be the third fight this year for Cormier, the first two ending in knockouts.

“This may be exactly what I need at this point," Cormier said. "Maybe I needed to have a month of really, really hard intense training and then go fight.”

The main event for UFC 230 has been something of great debate in the MMA nook of social media. For a couple of months, fans asked on Twitter who the main event would be for the MSG card, a major venue for UFC since the sport was legalized in New York in 2016. There were nearly as many rumored fights to take that slot as there were tweets about who it could be.

Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier campaigned to make their fight for a title at 165 pounds. The UFC has resisted creating such a division, so that fizzled out. Poirier pulled out of the fight with an injury on Tuesday, and White told the Los Angeles Times that Diaz would be pulled from the card. No official announcement has been made about that yet, though.

Then there was Valentina Shevchenko vs. Sijara Eubanks for the vacant women’s flyweight title. Then came the vitriol on social media about that pairing. On Wednesday, the UFC announced Shevchenko would face Joanna Jedrzejczyk for that title at UFC 231 next month, as originally planned, and Eubanks will face Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 230.

Now, it’s Lewis with top billing against Cormier, the double champ and a two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler. On three weeks’ notice. In New York City.

“I was real happy that they gave me the fight this early, because I didn’t want to wait,” Lewis said. “And also I wanted to have a big Christmas for my family while we move into the new home."


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