LAS VEGAS — Derrick Lewis spent the latter half of the first round on his back, with veteran Aleksei Oleinik slithering on top of him looking for an opening that would lead to a fight-ending submission.
A fighter introduced as a brawler wants no part of that position.
So, when the second round began, Lewis did something about it. He roared from his corner and dropped Oleinik with a crushing right. Lewis was immediately on top of him and began firing away. Referee Herb Dean called a quick stop to it to give Lewis the victory in the main event of a card Saturday at Apex.
Lewis backed up his pre-fight words, when he talked about his increased training and commitment to improving. He looked far better physically than he has in most of his fights and he had the explosion he’d become known for in his rise to the top of the UFC heavyweight division.
Oleinik had several knots on his head and a bloody nose and mouth when he got up after that brief but powerful Lewis onslaught.
While he’s ranked fourth, in a sense he’s third, because No. 1 contender Daniel Cormier fights champion Stipe Miocic on Aug. 15 in the main event of UFC 252 and plans to retire after that.
So Lewis is that much closer to a title shot with just Cormier, Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes ahead of him.
This version of Lewis, who is spending more than a half-hour a day training and is actively looking to improve his skills, would be a far bigger challenge for the champion than he was at UFC 230 in 2018, when he was submitted by Cormier.
Lewis opened Saturday’s bout aggressively, throwing a high kick at Oleinik that barely missed and then following up with a flurry of punches. He showed what he was capable of in that blast, a fearsome puncher capable of striking at any moment.
But Oleinik, had his moments in the first. He rode out the storm and managed to get position on Lewis, spending much of the final minute of the round on top looking for a submission.
He wasn’t ready for the Lewis explosion at the start of the second and it cost him the fight.
In the co-main event, former middleweight champion Chris Weidman rallied in the third round to pull out a unanimous decision over Omari Akhmedov, giving him his first win in more than three years.
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