There are a lot of reasons to love “The Black Beast”, Derrick Lewis. From “my balls was hot” to his legendary post-fight interview against Travis Browne, Lewis has proven to have a candid and endearing personality. He fights with violent bursts, earning ten knockouts out of 12 UFC wins.
Derrick Lewis fandom comes with an understanding that he is deeply flawed as a fighter, but wins in spite of that. He’ll spend long stretches of fights doing nothing, and finds himself in terrible positions nearly every time out.
Somehow, Lewis finds a way to recover and, more often than not, saves the day with some “H-town swangin’ and bangin’.”
Among analysts and laymen alike, there are references to Lewis’s ability to “just stand up.” The implication is that with freakish strength, Lewis defies the laws of physics and powers back to his feet regardless of his opponent’s position.
But what if I told you, outside of a pair of outliers, Derrick Lewis “just standing up” is a myth? Let’s investigate the getup game of Derrick Lewis from fight to fight and get to the bottom of his mysterious abilities.
Does Derrick Lewis really “just stand back up?”
Spoiler: There isn’t anything fancy going on in these examples. Lewis knows a few basic getups, he’s good at them, and he has a great feel for when to use them. They’re well-drilled, no magic here (save one example.)
I will say that most of these situations are only enough to create scrambles against better fighters. The shortcomings of his opponents are essential in a lot of these maneuvers resulting in Lewis getting right back to his feet. Of course, being super strong plays its part, but it’s not the reason.
vs. Jared Rosholt (2012)
We will see throughout this investigation that the most basic Lewis getup strategy is to roll to his belly, get to his base, and stand up. Not much to dissect there, if his hips aren’t blocked, Lewis is rolling over.
That is his bread and butter getup. There are huge risks involved, especially against a fighter who can actually do something when you give them your back. It’s especially ineffective against a fighter with a strong folkstyle wrestling background.
Jared Rosholt was a three-time Division 1 All-American for Oklahoma State. He’s familiar with mat returns, he can reliably hit go behinds, he’s no stranger to keeping a man down from referee’s position (hands and knees.)
That fight was in 2012, Lewis doesn’t fight another fighter with a folkstyle background until Daniel Cormier in 2018. Don’t be surprised when “give up my back and stand up” works time and time again until then.
vs. Jack May (2014)
Let’s not talk about how a tall kickboxer in Jack May took down Derrick Lewis and moved into full mount. We’ll focus on what happened once he was there.
For a lot of people, this will be white belt jiu-jitsu. One of the first escapes you learn from mount is to “bridge and roll.” If you line up your hips underneath your opponents’, climb your feet right up to your butt and hit an explosive bridge, it should knock them forward and force them to post on the mat. Typically you’re overhooking the arm from there and hitting your bridge again but to the side of the trapped arm, rolling into their guard.
Lewis simplified things a bit. He’s hitting his bridge, but also punching through to one side. In doing so he creates space and aids his motion in rolling to his belly. Should you really be giving up your back from mount? No. But Lewis has insurance. He’s getting to his base immediately and gaining height, forcing May to either try to put his hooks in or choose one hip to cover.
May is slow to get a grip under the arms or put hooks in, and he comically slides off.
A lot of Lewis’s getups rely on that type of explosion. Say what you will about Derrick Lewis, but he knows his division well. He spends so much time doing nothing on bottom because he’s conserving energy, timing his escape.
vs. Ruan Potts (2015)
You can blame this one on Ruan Potts. I have a theory, Derrick Lewis spends so much time just laying there, his opponents are sometimes lulled into a false sense of security. They don’t think they have to try that hard to keep him down, he’s not going anywhere, right?
Here we see Ruan Potts in what should be half-guard. He has zero control with his legs, and his hips are barely covering Lewis’s.
It makes perfect sense that someone strong would be able to push off to free up their hip and scoot to their side. From there Lewis has a strong seatbelt across the back and can continue adjusting to his base.
There was nothing complicated going on, just an opportunistic fighter taking advantage of a horrendous top game.
vs. Viktor Pesta (2015)
Viktor Pesta was a bit more put together as a grappler than Potts or May. He was also able to consistently put Lewis on the ground. This allowed Lewis to show off the diversity of his getup game.
From side control, Pesta got a little greedy and attempting to trap an arm for a crucifix. One arm was committed to Lewis’s, the other an underhook on the cage side.
Planting his feet on the cage, Lewis pushed off and rolled toward Pesta, getting to his knees. The cage was enormously helpful there, as Pesta would have probably been able to keep the momentum going to put Lewis back on his side otherwise.
In side control again, just one minute later, Pesta opted for knee on belly. In possibly his best maneuver thus far, Lewis swam through for an underhook and used it to push himself to his belly.
This is still Pesta’s fault, as he had no control of Lewis’s arms.
vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (2016)
Finally, a good grappler! Surely now, someone will have the kind of top game that will prevent Lewis from getting up.
Gabriel Gonzaga has medaled at major BJJ tournaments at black belt, he’s been a fairly effective grappler in MMA, he shouldn’t be making the same mistakes as Jack May.
He totally did. Lewis rolled to his belly, Gonzaga circled to his back. But from there, Gonzaga didn’t work to put his hooks in or change the position, he didn’t utilize any breakdowns to flatten Lewis out, he just held. So of course, Lewis stood up. No GIF here, sorry.
vs. Roy Nelson (2016)
I will concede, I have no idea how he did this, in a technical sense.
All I can say is that Nelson’s side control was pretty high (Nelson favors the crucifix and similar positions), and that Lewis’s hips were free to move.
But he didn’t just roll to his belly. He rolled to his side, and completely pushed Nelson off with one arm while doing a situp.
Maybe that’s a technical getup and I’m ignorant, but I don’t think that can be replicated without being really, really strong.
If we’re going to say there was a time where Lewis “just stood up”, that’s the one.
He does that twice in this fight, but the other happened from a terrible camera angle.
Later in the fight, we do see a more typical getup. Nelson gives space, Lewis pummels his right arm in for an underhook, and shrimps his hips out.
Nelson gets a lot of praise for his “sneaky underrated” ground game. That might be a myth to tackle another day.
vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Shamil Abdurakhimov may be from North Caucasus, but he’s a striker. His Sanshou\Sanda background lends itself to a decent kick-catching ability, which he used to take Lewis down several times.
This fight was an absolute drag, but there were some neat moments. In the first getup we see, Abdurakhimov is locking his hands for an americana far from Lewis’s body without the arm pinned to the mat. He has next to no control in that position.
In the second sequence, Lewis shocks us all by passing a leg from guard and attacking a heel hook!
Abdurakhimov was not particularly good at defending it, and Lewis was able to use the position to get height and stand up.
vs. Marcin Tybura
Marcin Tybura holds the distinction of being the first Derrick Lewis UFC opponent to successfully put his hooks in and ride from back mount.
As usual, when mounted, Lewis bridged and gave up his back. Tybura put his hooks in but got greedy and started to attack the choke. With his arms free, Lewis peeled off a foot and escaped.
The second time, Tybura locked down the position. He kept his grip under Lewis’s arms and applied pressure with his hips.
From the “quad pod” Lewis could have shook off Tybura, but frankly, that’s really hard with a heavyweight on your back.
vs. Alexander Volkov
Not much to say here, just wanted to show off a fairly technical getup.
From what I believe was half-guard, Lewis gets double underhooks, then a bodylock and starts to scoot his hips to the side of the guard. Then he uses his left arm to push on the knee of Volkov while leveraging with his right underhook to continue to get his hips out.
The leverage battle is mildly interesting, the hand on the knee does a good job fighting the pressure of the whizzer.
vs. Daniel Cormier
This was a fight where Lewis did what Lewis does, and Cormier took advantage of it. Eventually.
But first, marvel at the fact that Lewis hit ol’ reliable at least once.
Lewis was actually going for a pretty interesting sweep\scramble by sitting through and peaking out the opposite side from half guard. There’s more to that sequence in a perfect world, but DC was content to go ahead and let Lewis give up his back.
Cormier went with more of a seatbelt grip, but by the time he moved to put his hooks in, Lewis was blocking his left side with the cage and was able to lean on it to stand.
What’s your point?
Derrick Lewis is a highly intentional fighter. He doesn’t win by accident. He doesn’t get off the ground via raw untrainable athleticism.
There is process and technique behind his escapes. Even on the feet, he picks his spots well (although there is considerably less technique involved in that domain.) Give the man some credit in an area where he rarely receives it.
But is there any application here to his fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC Fight Night 146 (AKA UFC Wichita?)
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