Derrick Lewis narrowly escaped Ilir Latifi in the former 205-pounder's heavyweight debut at UFC 247.
Though it appeared the Latifi might use his Greco-Roman wrestling skills to steal the fight from the established heavyweight contender, Lewis wouldn't go down without a fight and it earned him a unanimous nod from the judges at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Saturday night.
Latifi got off to a slow start, narrowly avoiding a Lewis flying knee that had knockout written all over it. Lewis rocked Latifi with a punch a short time later, but ended up on the fence, caught in Latifi's Greco-Roman clinch for much of the final minute or two of the round.
Latifi turned it up in round two, landing several leg kicks early in the round, but Lewis wouldn't relent, constantly launching his patented power punches in search of a fight-ending blow. Late in the round, Lewis once again found himself caught in Latifi's clinch and got tossed to the canvas.
Knowing how close the fight was, Lewis came out swinging big in round three. He was walking Latifi down and launched another flying knee, but Latifi caught him and turned him to the fence, and then planted Lewis on the canvas. Latifi kept him there for the next minute or so, grounding and pounding.
Lewis eventually escaped and landed the jumping knee, putting Latifi briefly on the backfoot, but they once again ended up in a clinch, Lewis's back to the cage. Again Latifi tossed him to the canvas, looking like he might take control of the final minutes and win the fight.
Lewis dug deep, returning to his feet and landing a head kick that stunned Latifi, who again tried to clinch. Lewis dropped elbows to the side of Latifi's head until he could free himself and once again began swinging for the fences. He landed an uppercut that staggered Latifi, but the Swedish fighter wouldn't drop, surviving until the final horn.
When the scorecards were read, hometown favorite Derrick Lewis stood victorious, earning unanimous scores of 29-28 from the three judges, due in no small part to his final flurry in trying to find the knockout punch.
In true "Black Beast" fashion, Lewis noted the importance of winning in front of his hometown fans with UFC interviewer Joe Rogan.
"It was very important. That's why 24/7, I was smoking weed. I could never get Joe Rogan high though."
Though Latifi wound up on the wrong end of the decision, he showed promise for what he considers to be a likely permanent move to the heavyweight division.
After having failed to take the UFC heavyweight championship from Daniel Cormier and then losing to Junior dos Santos, Lewis has now won back-to-back bouts. He defeated Blagoy Ivanov before earning the decision in Houston, which puts him squarely back on track for another run at a title shot.