After a wild night in the final pay-per-view of the year, the UFC closes out 2021 in a big way, both figuratively and literally, with UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Daukaus. On Saturday, Dec. 18, two top-ten ranked heavyweights take center stage in the main event with former title challenger, knockout machine, and third-ranked Derrick Lewis takes on a rising star from the City of Brotherly Love in Chris Daukaus. Lewis had a four-fight winning streak snapped in his last outing, when he lost an interim title fight against Ciryl Gane. This is Lewis’ fourth straight main event appearance and his third fight of 2021. None of those main events have gone the full 25 minutes. For Daukaus, this is his first UFC main event but will also be the third time the former Philadelphia police officer has fought this calendar year.
The co-main event showcases the welterweight division with the seemingly ageless Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson squaring off against Belal Muhammad. Thompson has lost three of his last five fights, but proves to be a difficult opponent each and every time he steps in the cage. His unique striking prowess can make even the most elite opponents look like a fish out of water. The only time in his last six fights that Belal Muhammad hasn’t gotten a win is when Leon Edwards poked him in the eye, forcing their bout to be halted just 18 seconds into the second round. This is a big hurdle for Muhammad to overcome, and a test he needs to pass if he is going to ascend to the upper echelon of welterweights.
Also on the main card is a women’s strawweight clash between Amanda Lemos and Angela Hill. Lemos is riding a hot streak, winning four straight fights since dropping her UFC debut. Hill has not fared as well lately, dropping three of her last four fights, all by decision. But, all of those fights had a case to be made that she deserved the nod. These two women find themselves just outside the top ten in the rankings, and a stellar performance could see the victor move into a single-digit ranking in the promotion’s most talent-rich women’s division.
The UFC closes out their year inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev. The event airs in it’s entirety on ESPN+ with the prelims kicking off at 4 p.m. ET, and the amin card starting at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian give their final 2021 UFC preview and predictions in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Derrick Lewis enters this fight fresh off an interim title loss to Ciryl Gane; does he rebound with a win over Chris Daukaus?
Sumian: It is fitting to end 2021 with a clash featuring the new guard and old guard of the always entertaining heavyweight division. This bout is critical for both men, but in different ways. For Lewis, a win over Daukaus allows him to keep his status as a top-five heavyweight capable of landing big fights and eventually building back up to title contention. For Daukaus, a win over Lewis will signal his readiness to compete against ranked heavyweights and potentially land him a title eliminator bout in his next UFC appearance. One way or another, someone will be taking a nap when these two heavy hitters finally meet.
Daukaus has quickly established himself as one of the brightest prospects in the heavyweight division. The Philly native has compiled a perfect 4-0 record in the UFC, including notable wins over Aleksei Oleinik and Shamil Adburakhimov. Daukaus is primarily a striker who has finished 11 opponents via knockout. He is lighter on his feet than most heavyweights and utilized quick and efficient movement to open up the guard of his opponents and land powerful shots. To move to the next level of competition, Daukaus will have to take on the most dangerous opponent he has ever faced in Lewis.
To this day, Lewis remains an enigma. The top ranked heavyweight has, at times, looked like the scariest heavyweight in the world due to his powerful punching ability and finishing tenacity. However, he has also had numerous performances where he looks lost, confused and out of shape. Despite this, one thing remains true when it comes to Lewis. He is capable of finishing any heavyweight in the world with a single punch. The Houston native’s victories over Curtis Blaydes, Alexander Volkov and Gabriel Gonzaga are some of the most brutal finishing sequences in heavyweight history. To continue his prolific heavyweight career, and remain a threat to the crown, Lewis will need to score a rebound victory over one of the UFC’s rising heavyweight stars.
Daukaus will soon become a top heavyweight prospect. However, it will not come to fruition this Saturday. The rising prospect has two losses via knockout, and Lewis will make it a third when he scores a stunning knockout victory in the first round. Lewis is not yet done, and he will continue to be a force in the heavyweight division for the few years he has left.
Petela: Chris Daukaus has not lost since joining the UFC. He has improved tremendously over the past few years and is a much better fighter than when he lost to Azunna Anyanwu under the Cage Fury Fighting Championships banner. In that fight, he had Anyanwu hurt early on before getting caught in a wild exchange. That certainly sounds like the recipe for a Derrick Lewis win, but the improvements that Daukaus has made will prevent this fight from taking on that trajectory.
The team at Martinez BJJ, in Philadelphia’s Mayfair neighborhood, has helped Daukaus balance out his forward-pressuring, high amplitude striking attack with a more patient approach that allows the finish to come to him, rather than chasing it down and putting himself in danger. His last fight is proof of that. Daukaus had Abdurakhimov practically knocked out at the end of the first round, but rather than dive in for the exclamation point finish, and risk getting caught, he stayed composed and ultimately got the finish in the second round. That poise will help him a tremendous amount in this fight against Lewis. We have seen Lewis play possum and catch an overzealous opponent with a thunderous punch that closes the show, and Daukaus will have to be wary of that. He will be able to thread the needle and keep enough pressure on Lewis to ensure that this fight is entertaining without overcommitting and ruining his own night by getting knocked out in a reckless exchange. This fight will fully cement Daukaus as a contender in the heavyweight division and likely mark the end of Lewis’ run as an elite heavyweight.
Belal Muhammad is unbeaten in his last six fights; does he continue his hot streak by defeating Stephen Thompson?
Petela: Unfortunately for Belal Muhammad, this fight will be a setback for him, as he tries to make his way towards the top of the UFC’s welterweight rankings. Stephen Thompson shines against fighters who rely on forward pressure and volume striking like Muhammad. Just like in his fight against Geoff Neal, Wonderboy will be elusive for the entirety of this fight and will force Muhammad to chase him down as he darts in and out of range. This one will be the proverbial matador-versus-bull scenario with Thompson playing the matador.
Thompson is a thorn in the side of many emerging welterweights looking to get past him and announce themselves as a true threat to the title. He poses a unique challenge that is difficult to replicate in training, which is why so many of his opponents bring in outside help. To beat the very best fighters in any division in the UFC, you need more than raw ability and physical talent, you need to be surrounded by a good team. If a fighter faces Thompson with an effective game plan that he has the ability to execute, that bodes well for his longevity as a contender. It means his team has prepared him to solve that puzzle, and, in the long run, it is important to be bale to execute that type of plan. So even if he loses to Thompson, Muhammad will still have the opportunity to show the rest of the division that he is going to be a problem for them as he climbs towards the top.
Sumian: This bout will be nearly identical to the Thompson-Neal bout that took place back in Dec. 2020. Muhammad will do his best to continuously walk Thompson down to negate the eventual flow that Thompson will establish. Thompson will land numerous kicks and jabs, and he will continuously slow down Muhammad before landing flush in round three and scoring a TKO victory. The Chicago native’s toughness will be on full display, but will not be enough to stop the crafty striking of Wonderboy. Thompson still presents one of the more interesting challenges to welterweight kingpin Usman, and he can see himself fighting for a title in 2022 due to the lack of viable contenders.
Victor Henry — do we need to know this name?
Sumian: The Los Angeles native has a plethora of experience compiling an impressive 21-5 record throughout his MMA career. However, he faces a very tough opponent in Raoni Barcelos, who is eager to get back in the win column after dropping a majority decision to Timur Valiev. Expect Barcelos to get back on track against a favorable opponent in Henry. Unfortunately, there is no reason to get excited for Henry just yet.
Petela: One of my least favorite things to do is agree with my colleague when it comes to prospects. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I have to do here. Henry might be a name to watch in the future, or he might be just another guy. At this point, it is just too early to tell.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Justin Tafa. Heavyweights are somewhat of an anomaly in the UFC for multiple reasons. First of all, they don’t reach their athletic prime until later than fighters in other divisions. They also have the largest possibility of ending their fights with one shot and completely turning their career momentum on a dime. With that said, if Justin Tafa comes up short this weekend, against the relatively unknown Henry Hunsucker, his 1-4 record inside the UFC will be more than enough reason for the promotion to cut ties with him. Tafa is very young for the division at 27 years old, and when he wins, it has always been by knockout. So, there’s a chance he gets a second chance at a tenure with the promotion down the road, but a loss would spell current doom for the New Zealander.
Sumian: Raphael Assuncao. The former top-ranked Brazilian bantamweight has suffered three consecutive losses, is approaching the 40-year-old mark and is certainly past his prime. A loss to Ricky Simon will give the UFC all the excuses it needs to send Assuncao packing, and continue its roster purge of aging, out-of-prime talent.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Cub Swanson and Darren Elkins is by no means a sleeper match-up on this card. However, there is simply no other bout that has a chance to take “Fight of the Night” on the card. Swanson and Elkins are two of the most game, tough and resilient featherweights in UFC history, who are both known for putting on performances that fans will not forget. Expect the two to engage in a bloody, all-out brawl with the victor being decided in round three after two incredibly entertaining rounds.
Petela: The Swanson-Elkins fight is definitely going to be fun to watch. However, a little earlier on the card is the fight I have my eye on. Charles Jourdain versus Andre Ewell is going to be fireworks. Ewell is moving up to featherweight, after back-to-back losses at bantamweight. His back against the wall in this one. Jourdain also enters this fight coming off a loss, and has a 1-2-1 record over his last four fights. These guys both need a win in the worst way, and they will be looking for a highlight-reel moment from the opening bell.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Carlos Diego Ferreira. He is on a two-fight losing streak, but has won “Fight of the Night” honors in both of those fights. Those fights were also against top-tier opponents in Gregor Gillespie and Beneil Dariush. No disrespect to Mateusz Gamrot, but he is a notch below those aforementioned opponents. Ferreira will shine in this outing, and his black belt in jiu-jitsu will be on full display as he wins his eighth fight by submission. This will earn him an extra fifty-thousand dollars for his efforts.
Sumian: Gerald Meerschaert. The middleweight Wisconsin native is a submission ace who has racked up 25 professional victories via submission. His opponent, Dustin Stoltzfus, has suffered two losses via submission, and he is on a two-fight losing streak. Meerschaert will use his striking to set up an eventual takedown. His opponent will scramble, leading to an opening and eventual submission victory. This will mark Meerschaert’s third “Performance of the Night” honor in a row.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: A prolific 2021 in the books. This year has featured some of the best events in UFC history, including UFC 268 and UFC 261, which delivered in spectacular fashion. 2021 has set the stage for yet another incredible year with the rise of notable names, such as Khamzat Chimaev, Giga Chikdaze, Charles Oliveira, Islam Makhachev, Jiri Prochazka and many more.
End the year right with a perfectly sound fight night card, capable of delivering numerous exciting fights and finishes as the world’s biggest MMA promotion prepares to enter 2022 with a bang.
Petela: A year-end feast, with all the trimmings. Not only is this the final fight card of the year, but the main event pits two heavyweights, who don’t miss many meals, against each other. They certainly maintain a high level of athleticism, and aren’t gluttonous, but as a mixed martial arts fan this year, it has been a spoil of riches. So enjoy this early evening fight card with a big meal, and celebrate one last great night of UFC fights in 2021.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus||Lewis||Daukaus|
|WW: Stephen Thompson vs. Belal Muhammad||Thompson||Thompson|
|StrawW: Amanda Lemos vs. Angela Hill||Lemos||Hill|
|BW: Raphael Assuncao vs. Ricky Simon||Simon||Assuncao|
|LW: Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Gamrot||Ferreira||Ferreira|
|FW: Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins||Swanson||Elkins|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|MW: Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Gerald Meerschaert||Meerschaert||Meerschaert|
|BW: Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry||Barcelos||Henry|
|HW: Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker||Hunsuckerk||Hunsucker|
|Women’s FlyW: Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto||Gatto||Gatto|
|FW: Charles Jourdain vs. Andre Ewell||Jourdain||Jourdain|
|Women’s BW: Raquel Pennington vs. Macy Chiasson||Chiasson||Pennington|
|HW: Don’Tale Mayes vs. Josh Parisian||Parisian||Parisian|
|LW: Jordan Leavitt vs. Matt Sayles||Leavitt||Leavitt|