It felt like an eternity, but, in reality, the UFC took just one week off and they get back to action this weekend in the first of seven straight weekends of UFC events. Back inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, the heavyweights take center stage as Derrick Lewis and Serghei Spivac square off in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Spivac.
This fight was originally scheduled to take place back in Nov. 2022, but a last minute illness forced Lewis out of the contest just hours before the fight. Originally it was said to be a non-COVID related issue, but new information has been released that showed Lewis was, in fact, dealing with that illness, and that is why the bout had to be scrapped.
Now, nearly three months later, a trimmed-down Lewis will try to get back on track against the hard-charging Spivac. In both of his last two bouts, Lewis has found himself on the wrong end of devastating knockouts. Still, Lewis remains the UFC’s all-time leader in knockouts with 13 inside the promotion. He is a fearsome striker with fight-changing power.
Lewis’s opponent Spivac is on the opposite trajectory. Winning two fights in a row, and five of his last six, Spivac is hitting a stride, as he shows off his well-rounded mixed martial arts game. Spivac is still a very young fighter, especially for the heavyweight division. He is over a year away from his 30th birthday. A win over a former title challenger like Lewis would be, far and away, the most impressive victory of his career, should he be able to defeat “The Black Beast.”
In the co-main event, the light heavyweight division will be on display as Da Un Jung takes on Devin Clark. Da Un Jung had a fifteen fight unbeaten streak stopped in his last bout, where he fell via first round knockout to Dustin Jacoby. He will look to begin a new streak by defeating UFC veteran Devin Clark. Clark has struggled recently, losing three of his last four fights. One loss came via decision, one by submission, and one by knockout. His back is up against the proverbial wall here as he takes on Da Un Jung. Without a victory this weekend, we may see Clark relegated to the preliminary card for the remainder of his UFC tenure, however long that may last.
The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
A “last-minute medical issue” forced Derrick Lewis out of the original bout with Serghei Spivac; can “The Black Beast” return to the win column and defeat Spivac?
Kuhl: Well, this one is a bit of deja vu, as my colleague and I put in our predictions for Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac back in Nov. 2022. So, I’m going to shamelessly cut and paste some things I said last time. However, with Lewis coming out this week and saying he had to pull out of that one due to COVID, as opposed to some other unidentified issue, the dynamic changes a bit.
While I stand by my original assessment that Lewis has one thing and one thing only – crazy knockout power, and his takedown, submission and striking accuracy threats are low, he also has had seeming cardio issues in the past. If he really was dealing with COVID for a few weeks, which is what he said in a recent interview, that could further affect his cardio in a bad way.
All Lewis has ever needed is to connect with one punch. 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. Two years ago, 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 finally facing 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.
I originally called this a bad match-up for Spivac, and I still think that, stylistically. However, while I originally expected another knockout from Lewis, which is always a threat, I think if Spivac plays it safe and drags Lewis beyond the midpoint of Round 2, he could suck the cardio out, and give himself a chance to grind out a win. He just needs to stay away from those big hands of Lewis, drag him to the ground, and he should be able to pull off a decision win.
Petela: The whole COVID issue makes me even more confident in my original pick of Serghei Spivac. The one thing that Derrick Lewis has that sets him apart from just about every other fighter, even other heavyweights, is his otherworldly power. I don’t know if that will be the case anymore. Pictures surfaced of Derrick Lewis doing road work and he looked much thinner than normal, prompting jokes about how he was preparing for a run at welterweight. Granted, even a trimmed-down Lewis is a big fella, and he will still pack a decent punch, I don’t know if that one-punch, fight-ending power will be there in this contest.
The other thing that concerns me about Lewis losing some weight, and, therefore, maybe some strength, is his ability to get up off the mat. Nearly every opponent who moved into side control on Lewis instantly realized that was a mistake. He had this incredible ability to just shuck his opponents off of him, almost like he was using them as a bench press. Will he still be able to generate that kind of force from flat on his back if he is a little lighter? I just don’t know. If Lewis had made the change earlier in his career – to get slimmed down even a little bit – things probably would have ended up working well for him. He wouldn’t have had the same cardio issues that he has shown, and his speed would, in all likelihood, have improved. However, at this stage in his career, at age 37, it is going to be tough to teach an old dog new tricks.
Spivac will take advantage of his superior grappling game and smother Lewis on the canvas until ultimately scoring a TKO stoppage before the third round begins.
Da Un Jung comes into this fight with Devin Clark on the heels of his first ever knockout loss; how does he fare against the NJCAA All-American wrestler?
Petela: This will be a great fight for Da Un Jung to rebound with, after that knockout loss to Dustin Jacoby. With all due respect to Devin Clark, his striking is nowhere near the level of Jacoby’s.
From the beginning of this fight, the two fighters’ game plans will be fully on display. Jung will want to keep this fight standing, where he will have a sizable advantage. On the flipside, Clark will shoot for takedowns early and often. Frankly, I don’t expect Clark to have much success. Jung has pretty incredible takedown defense, stopping 88-percent of his opponents’ takedown attempts. Clark’s takedown-heavy game plan will cause him to exert a tremendous amount of energy, and, as a rather muscular man, his body will build up with lactic acid and he will slow down drastically by the midway point of the fight. By the third round, Clark will be little more than a stationary target for Jung, and the South Korean standout will bounce back from his knockout loss by picking up a knockout win of his own.
When he first joined the UFC, I thought Clark would quickly become a contender. However, the former RFA light heavyweight champion simply hasn’t been able to put all the pieces together inside the UFC. He’s immensely talented, but something just hasn’t jived on a consistent basis, and, therefore, he hasn’t been able to put together a sizable winning streak. A loss to Jung will be his fourth loss in his last five fights, and, heading into his next fight, we may be discussing him as a fighter whose career is in jeopardy.
Kuhl: I agree with my colleague’s overall assessment, and will take this a step further. Devin Clark is 7-7 in the UFC, and all but one of those wins are by decision over mid-tier, at best, opponents. All but one of his UFC losses have been by stoppage. In a nutshell, he can mostly only win in the distance, and he is susceptible to being finished. On the flip side, Da Un Jung is a finisher.
Jung is a machine, and a little over a year ago, he handed knockout artist Kennedy Nzechukwu his sole career knockout loss. And, as Matt pointed out, Clark is no Dustin Jacoby, who was the only person to hand Jung a knockout loss. There is just no clear path to victory for Clark here.
If Clark engages in a striking, he might get slept. If he tries to take Jung down, he will likely get stuffed. Jung is bigger and stronger, and he will likely stop Clark before they see the third round.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Ji Yeon Kim is in a really tough spot. The Korean fighter hasn’t won a fight in three-and-a-half years, but has lost four in a row in that time. On Saturday, she faces Mandy Bohm, who is also on a losing streak, and another loss for Kim would certainly send her packing. It’s going to be a tough battle against her German opponent, but a win would be a step in the right direction.
Petela: Canadian fighter Kyle Nelson is probably on a really short leash with the UFC brass. He has lost four of his five fights since signing with the promotion. He’s clashing on the main card with the “Korean Superboy” Doo Ho Choi, who is on a three-fight losing streak of his own. Nelson is certainly a live dog against Choi, who hasn’t fought since 2019, but, if he comes up short this weekend, it might be back to the drawing board for the 31 year old from the Great White North.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Jun Yong Park vs. Denis Tiuliulin. This middleweight clash is going to be a fun one. Tiuliulin made his UFC debut less than a year ago and was meant to be a sacrificial lamb for highly touted prospect Aliaskhab Khizriev and while Tiuliulin came up short in that contest he showed flashes of brilliance. He then knocked out Jamie Pickett in his sophomore performance and has shown that the power he displayed on the international scene carried over onto the biggest stage. “The Iron Turtle” is now a proven UFC veteran with a 5-2 record inside the promotion and he can get the job done on the feet or on the ground. These two fighters both bring the action and no matter how it turns out this preliminary card bout could steal the show.
Kuhl: What has not been discussed in this preview is the Road to UFC finals that will be taking place on the undercard. There are four bouts that could mint new UFC contracts for fighters across four divisions – lightweight, featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight. Of those, the one that most intrigues me is the featherweight bout between China’s Zha Yi and South Korea’s Jeong Yeong Lee. Yi is 22-3 and is the top-ranked Chinese featherweight, while Lee is 9-1, and is on a six-fight winning streak. Any of the Road to UFC finals could earn “Fight of the Night” honors, but this particular one could be a hell of a showdown.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: The main-card battle between Marcin Tybura and Blagoy Ivanov should be a wild one, which is a bout that was supposed to take place in Mar. 2021. Poland’s Tybura has only lost one fight since Sep. 2019, and that was to Alexander Volkov. In that time, he has put together six wins including over veteran Ben Rothwell and the aforementioned Spivac. Ivanov, on the other hand, suffered back-to-back split decision losses to Augusto Sakai and the aforementioned Lewis, but outside of those, and one loss to Junior dos Santos in Jul. 2018, he has won eight fights in almost nine years, including big wins over Rothwell and Tai Tuivasa in three-round wars. It’s not every day that a couple of heavyweights who go the distance will earn a performance bonus, but this could be one of those rare “Fight of the Night” battles.
Petela: Yusaku Kinoshita. The lone loss on his professional resume came via disqualification due to fence-grabbing under the Rizin FF banner. He hasn’t gone the distance in any of his six wins, with four knockouts and two submissions. He will improve to 7-1 this weekend against Adam Fugitt, who enters this showdown on the heels of a loss in his UFC debut. Expect Kinoshita to crack Fugitt early with a big right hand that closes the show in an instant.
Pair this card with…
Petela: A whole pot of coffee. With a 1:00 AM Eastern start time for the main card, caffeine is a must have for this event. This card will highlight some of the brightest Asian UFC prospects and is a can’t miss event so you’re not going to want to head to bed early and miss the action. So fire up your Keurig or Mr. Coffee and keep a steady supply ready so that you don’t doze off mid-fight. Also, don’t watch the fights in bed and tell yourself you’ll stay awake until the end of the main event. From personal experience, that just simply doesn’t work, Instead keep the lights on and watch from the couch as you sip on your cup of joe.
Kuhl: To piggyback on what my colleague said, not only a large pot of strong coffee, but a good night’s sleep the night before would also be essential. With the main card scheduled to start so late, the best offense is a good defense, and that starts the night before. So, maybe stay up a little late on Friday, refrain from partying, sleep in and get ready for a marathon come Saturday night.
|Fight||Kuhl’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac||Lewis||Spivac|
|LHW: Da Un Jung vs. Devin Clark||Jung||Jung|
|HW: Marcin Tybura vs. Blagoy Ivanov||Tybura||Tybura|
|FW: Doo Ho Choi vs. Kyle Nelson||Choi||Choi|
|WW: Yusaku Kinoshita vs. Adam Fugitt||Kinoshita||Kinoshita|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|LW Road to UFC Final: Anshul Jubli vs. Jeka Saragih||Saragih||Jubli|
|FW Road to UFC Final: Zha Yi vs. Jeong Yeong Lee||Lee||Lee|
|BW Road to UFC Final: Rinya Nakamura vs. Toshiomi Kazama||Nakamura||Nakamura|
|FlyW Road to UFC Final: Hyun Sung Park vs. Seung Guk Choi||Park||Park|
|Women’s FlyW: Ji Yeon Kim vs. Mandy Bohm||Kim||Kim|
|MW: Jun Yong Park vs. Denis Tiuliulin||Park||Tiuliulin|
|FlyW: Tatsuro Taira vs. Jesus Aguilar||Taira||Taira|