Derrick Lewis (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Spivac Preview and Predictions

Serghei Spivac has the opportunity to pick up the biggest win of his career in his first UFC main event, as he takes on perennial contender Derrick Lewis in the headlining affair of UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Spivac. The two heavyweights come into this fight on very different trajectories, with Lewis dropping two straight via knockout, and Spivac winning his two most recent bouts by knockout. The hard-charging Moldovan is a decade younger than “The Black Beast,” and he will have a chance to move up in the rankings from 12th into the top ten if he can get past the seventh-ranked fighter in Lewis.

The co-main event also features another hard-hitting Moldovan, as Ion Cutelaba faces off against Kennedy Nzechukwu. Neither one of these fighters particularly likes to get the judges involved, with Cutelaba scoring 14 finishes in his 16 wins and Nzechukwu notching seven stoppages in his 10 career victories – all seven of those coming by knockout. A statement victory by either fighter in this contest could vault the winner into the top 15.

Also on the main card is another slugfest with Chase Sherman meeting undefeated Waldo Cortes-Acosta. Sherman was slated to fight Josh Parisian earlier this month, but last-minute medical issues forced Parisian out of that fight, and the fight was scrapped. Cortes-Acosta fought less than a month ago, making his UFC debut by defeating Jared Vanderaa. That fight was a unanimous-decision victory, and, as it turns out, Vanderaa was also the most recent opponent for Sherman, and “The Vanilla Gorilla” scored a third-round TKO.


UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Spivac takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 1 p.m. ET with the preliminary card, followed by the main card at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the event in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Derrick Lewis has been knocked out in three of his last four fights; can “The Black Beast” stop that trend in his main event against Serghei Spivac?

Kuhl: Derrick Lewis has one thing and one thing only – crazy knockout power. His takedown threat is low, his striking accuracy is pretty “meh,” and there is no submission threat whatsoever. He can, obviously, also be finished. However, if he connects with one punch, that is all he needs to put his opponent to sleep. None of this is a secret, yet, he still has an overall winning record in the Octagon, as he currently sits at 17-8 in the UFC with 13 of those wins coming by knockout. Hell, in Feb. 2021, he nearly decapitated Curtis Blaydes with an uppercut in a fight he was losing. While he lost his last two fights by knockout, it’s important to understand who he was facing.

Lewis faced Tai Tuivasa in Feb. 2022, and Sergei Pavlovich five months later. Between the two of them, they have 26 combined knockouts in 30 combined wins. Both of those were tough tests for a guy like Lewis, who just marches forward in a kill-or-be-killed fashion. On Saturday night, he is facing Serghei Spivac, who is nowhere near the same level of threat as his previous two opponents.

Spivac is nearly the same size as Lewis, and he has this gritty Moldovan style, but he is a more well-rounded fighter. Spivac is good everywhere, but, if history repeats itself, that could backfire against Lewis. If he attempts to stand-and-bang, he doesn’t have the same knockout power as the Black Beast. If he attempts a takedown, he’s going to have to get close, giving Lewis a chance to touch him. And, coming from Lewis, that touch is usually a death sentence.

Unfortunately for Spivac, I think this is a bad match-up. While there could be flashes of dominance from the European big man, I think fans are in store for another knockout from Lewis. It may not happen in the first round, but whenever it happens, it will get him back in the win column. Lewis always seems to turn things around after a couple losses.

Petela: Derrick Lewis is one of the most perplexing fighters on the UFC roster. Sometimes he looks like a threat to make a run towards a second title shot, and sometimes he looks like a run-of-the-mill heavyweight who is only in the main event because of his ability to turn his opponents’ lights off with one punch. He sometimes comes into fights looking out of shape and struggling to keep his cardiovascular system going after the second round, and then sometimes he snaps effortless head kicks at his opponents and surprises everyone in attendance. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster, and it is hard to tell when he is actually hurt and when he is playing a bit of possum, looking to catch his opponent charging towards him before uncorking a potentially fight-ending shot.

Call it a hunch, but these last two losses out of Derrick Lewis just seem different. Granted, the Sergei Pavlovich TKO stoppage was controversial, but Lewis went down hard in that one, despite popping back up as soon as the referee put a halt to that contest. Without being saved by the referee, Lewis would have been in a world of trouble and would have taken unnecessary damage. There was nothing controversial about the loss to Tai Tuivasa. Lewis had his moments in that fight but it almost felt like a changing of the guard where Tuivasa took the place of Lewis as the most fun heavyweight to watch, who also has the potential to maybe be champion one day.

As has been said too many times to count, power is the last thing to go. So Derrick Lewis always has a chance, but I favor Spivac to get the job done via submission in this matchup. Lewis is susceptible to being taken down, when he gets off balance throwing a big haymaker, and Spivac will do just that and find himself on top in half guard. He will lock in an arm triangle choke from there, just as he did against Tuivasa and force Lewis to tap for just the second time in his career.

Kennedy Nzechukwu and Ion Cutelaba have both lost two of their last three fights; which heavy hitter comes out with a win when they square off?

Petela: I expect Kennedy Nzechukwu to make it back-to-back knockout wins by handing Ion Cutelaba his third straight loss. Despite having lost two of his last three fights, Nzechukwu has looked better than Cutelaba recently. The Da Un Jung fight was strange, as Nzechukwu just looked flat from the moment the bell rang, and even the elbow that dropped him, and led to the knockout, was partially blocked. I have no inside knowledge, but I would bet an amount of money that matters to me that Nzechukwu came into that fight at significantly less than 100-percent. His split-decision loss to Nicolae Negumereanu was controversial, if not an absolute robbery, and there were plenty of moments in that fight where Nzechukwu looked as polished as ever. He got going in the right direction by stopping Karl Roberson in his most recent fight and he will be coming into this fight as a slightly improved version of that fighter.

Cutelaba has not only won one of his last three fights, but, as a matter of fact, he has only one win in his last six outings. He needs to make major changes in order to harness his talent and make a legitimate run towards the top of the light heavyweight division. His last two losses both came via submission, and, fortunately for him, Nzechukwu isn’t known for his grappling skills. This one will be a kickboxing match in small gloves, and, under the tutelage of Sayif Saud down at Fortis MMA, it will be Kennedy Nzechukwu who proves to be the better kickboxer as he remains calm and technical while they engage. Cutelaba will try and turn it into a brawl. A patient and reserved Nzechukwu will be able to avoid taking many big shots, and, when Cutelaba gets off balance, a well-placed counterpunch will land and spell trouble for the Moldovan.

Kuhl: I agree with my colleague’s assessment, and will even take it a step further. Kennedy Nzechukwu is huge compared to Cutelaba with a four-inch height advantage and a whopping eight-inch reach advantage. By all accounts, he is a huge light heavyweight, who has also fought at heavyweight, and Cutelaba is on the average-to-smaller end of the 205-pounders. While Cutelaba’s kind of spazzy style has led to some knockout victories, I just don’t see him pulling that off in this one. It’s going to be difficult to close distance, and Nzechukwu should walk away with a knockout victory.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Possibly Charles Johnson. He is making his sophomore appearance in the promotion, and his debut did not go his way. He was thoroughly and soundly beaten by Muhammad Mokaev, who is one of the most exciting prospects in the flyweight division. This time around he takes on a struggling Zhalgas Zhumagulov, who could also be on the chopping block, and needs a win to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start with the organization. In the past it had always been the unwritten rule that a three fight losing streak gets a fighter the pink slip but that has changed recently. Some fighters get a longer leash because of the value they provide to the promotion and some who have a low profile and don’t necessarily deliver the most exciting fights don’t get quite as much leeway. I see Johnson as the latter, who with a second straight loss before picking up a win with the organization will find himself on the outside looking in at the world’s premier MMA organization.

Kuhl: I’m tempted to go with Ion Cutelaba on this one, as he is most certainly on the fast track to a smaller or even regional promotion. He’s only won one of his last six fights, but that choice seems too obvious. I will, instead, go with Jennifer Maia.

Maia has only won one of her last four fights – two of her last six – but, to be fair, those losses were to Manon Fiorot, Katlyn Chookagian twice, and the champ Valentina Shevchenko. All of them are sitting atop the flyweight division, but a third loss in a row could send her back to Invicta FC to see if she can earn her spot back.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Kuhl: The very first fight of the event, between sophomore Natália Silva
and promotional newcomer Tereza Bledá could be a banger, as they look to stake their respective claims in the flyweight division. Bledá won her Contender Series bout in Sep. 2022, and is currently undefeated in six pro fights. Silva is 13-5-1, is riding a seven-fight winning streak, and won her promotional debut last June. I would imagine not many mainstream fans even know this fight is happening, but both of these ladies have a lot of finishes under their belts, and both will be looking to make a big splash.

Petela: Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Maria Oliveira. Both women come into this showdown after winning their last fight. Their gas tanks can’t be questioned, and they keep a high pace throughout all of their fights. This will probably go the distance, but it will be close throughout. Whoever the winner is will have a big chunk of momentum in the strawweight division moving forward.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Petela: Muslim Salikhov. His Wushu Sanda background makes him one of my favorite fighters to watch because of how quickly he can change the trajectory of a fight with one kick. He is going to have a willing dance partner in Andre Fialho so this fight will take place almost entirely on the feet. Fialho is an aggressive fighter and as is often the case his aggressive style can sometimes leave him open to being countered in a big way. That’s what is going to happen this time around, as Fialho plods in with a boxing combination a slight side step followed by a head kick from Salikhov will close the show and earn Muslim Salikhov his second Performance of the Night bonus with the UFC.

Kuhl: Kennedy Nzechukwu. I think the “African Savage” comes into this one, puts away Ion Cutelaba, and walks away with some extra cash in his pocket. He’s a big dude with knockout power, and I see him sleeping the Moldovan as he tries to close distance.

Pair this card with…

Kuhl: Smelling salts. Apparently, there are some brands out there that sell smelling salts for regular use now, which seem to be used as a supplement by bodybuilders. While I haven’t personally tried them, what could go better with this main event, as well as a card that has guys like Kennedy Nzechukwu, Chase Sherman, and Waldo-Cortes Acosta on it? Fighters are going to be getting knocked out, so might as well join the fun.

Petela: No argument here, my esteemed and venerable colleague is spot-on about this event being full of knockouts. It is another card that you might have to watch standing up so you’re not jumping out of your seat and freaking out your pets. It is also a matinee affair with the prelims kicking off at lunch time on the East Coast. Because of that, avoid the alcohol and pair this card instead with a couple protein bars and a case of water. Simple, no real cleanup, and easy to eat so you’re not worried about missing a fight-ending sequence while chowing down on a robust meal.

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac Lewis Spivac
LHW: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Ion Cutelaba Nzechukwu Nzechukwu
HW: Chase Sherman vs. Waldo Cortes Acosta Cortes Acosta Sherman
WW: Andre Fialho vs. Muslim Salikhov Fialho Salikhov
WW: Jack Della Maddalena vs. Danny Roberts Maddalena Roberts
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Charles Johnson vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov Johnson Zhumagulov
Women’s FlyW: Jennifer Maia vs. Maryna Moroz Moroz Moroz
BW: Vince Morales vs. Miles Johns Johns Morales
BW: Ricky Turcios vs. Kevin Natividad Turcios Turcios
Women’s StrawW: Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Maria Oliveira Demopoulos Demopoulos
BW: Brady Hiestand vs. Fernie Garcia Hiestand Hiestand
Women’s FlyW: Natalia Silva vs. Tereza Bleda Silva Silva