Derrick Lewis defeated Ilir Latifi by unanimous decision in the first fight of the UFC 247 pay-per-view event at the Toyota Center in Houston. All three judges scored the bout 28-28 for Lewis.
But Lewis, 35, from Houston, had hoped to notch the all-time UFC record for most knockouts in the heavyweight division by stopping Latifi.
That didn’t happen.
Latifi, 36, from Sweden, was moving up to the heavyweight ranks for the first time in his UFC career. There was a considerable size disparity between the career light heavyweight and Lewis. The Houston-based heavyweight, Lewis, towered over Latifi by five inches. His strikes were faster, harder and had the additional advantage of having the legitimate bodyweight of a full-fledged heavyweight behind them.
But Latifi was tough. On top of that, the smaller fighter knew how to keep Lewis from getting too many punches off by tripping the bigger fighter down to the mat.
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Lewis Couldn’t Quite Capture Clever Latifi
Lewis, ranked No. 6 in the division, entered UFC 247 tied for the mark with Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. He was fighting in front of the hometown crowd for the first time since 2015.
“Fighting in Houston was almost nerve-racking, all the adrenaline…,” Lewis said. “The crowd helped me push at the end, that was a good job from them, it really helped me out.”
Still, Lewis will have to wait to hold the record all by himself for at least one more fight.
The first minute of action was slow, as Lewis carefully stalked his opponent looking to land his powerful right hand. But Latifi managed to make the heavyweight miss its first launch. The next thing Lewis tried was a high knee to Latifi’s chin. It landed, but not in full force and Latifi managed to back his opponent’s back to the cage.
“The flying knees just came from being in better shape,” Lewis said. “I still have a lot to improve and there is a lot more in my arsenal that people haven’t seen yet.”
The two tussled for position there until the referee reset the action. Now Lewis was back on the attack. He started with huge kicks that Latifi managed to snuff with little damage. Once again, the smaller man pushed Lewis’ back to the cage.
Lewis tried another big knee but missed before the round was over.
Lewis stuck Latifi with a left kick to the jaw in the second round. Latifi blocked it, but it still seemed to jar the Swede. Lewis tried another kick to the abdomen and that was also caught. Once again, Latifi managed to turn Lewis around with his back up to the cage to slow the pace.
Lewis reversed position on Latifi but lost his footing soon after, and Latifi took him to the mat. There Latifi maintained top position but Lewis held the smaller fighter close to keep him from getting too many punches off.
The raucous crowd booed as the hometown hero lay on the mat with the invading Latifi doing little on top of him, perhaps just enough to keep the referee from breaking the action. But the action slowed even more after 30 seconds, so the two were reset on their feet.
Now Lewis was throwing bombs, but Latifi tripped him in the fray to again take him to the ground. The round ended with little fanfare from those hoping to see the Houston fighter land something big.
Lewis came out with menace on his mind in the third round. He threw a few hard punches and drove a knee into Latifi’s head but couldn’t quite crack the nut that was his head. Again Latifi tripped Lewis to the ground where the action stalled with Latifi doing his best to safely throw punches from up top.
The crowd booed loudly. Some obscenities were also hurled. The referee didn’t budge, but Lewis did and got back to his feet in a hurry.
Now the heavyweight was gunning for the knockout, but Latifi wouldn’t go.
A hard takedown was probably the best work done by Latifi in the third round, but Lewis exploded out of it. The hard-charging heavyweight landed several huge bombs as the seconds ticked off the clock, but Latifi escaped the fray without having gone down in the record books as the fighter Lewis stopped to become the UFC’s heavyweight knockout king.
Lewis will now look forward to more opportunities to break the record.
“I’m healthy right now, there is nothing wrong with me, so I can come back in for a quick replacement for Rozenstruik vs. Ngannou if needed,” Lewis said. “I’m ready whenever.”