The main event of Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas is a fascinating heavyweight matchup between Derrick Lewis and Aleksei Oleinik.
Lewis, the fourth-ranked heavyweight, is a one-dimensional fighter who needs all the time he can get to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit. A rotund man, Lewis will weigh 30 to 40 pounds more than his opponent. Lewis’ advantages will include having an inch edge in height, almost eight years in youth and an abundance of power.
He has won his last two fights, but a closer look shows he greased his way into a split-decision win in his last bout against Ilir Latifi, a 5-foot-7 light-heavyweight who had moved up for a bout at heavyweight. Lewis’ other win, against undersized and glacier-slow Blagoy Ivanov, was almost as unflattering.
Lewis possesses tremendous natural power and incredible strength. And for a man his size, Lewis is quite explosive … for a time.
Across the cage will be the 10th-ranked Oleinik, 43, who looked spectacular in his last outing May 9 against Fabricio Werdum. For that tussle, Oleinik stepped off the scales looking lean and cut at 228 pounds. To say there will be a size difference is an understatement.
Oleinik (59-13) is no stranger to competing with larger men, though he has fought at heavyweight since 2008 for a 27-8-1 tally. Oleinik’s advantages are clearly his depth of experience, as he’s by far the more well-rounded fighter with great skills on the ground.
A master of sport in combat Sambo and Russian Jiu-Jitsu, Oleinik is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The complexity to this fight is that Oleinik has a fragile chin. He has had three defeats since July 2016, and in each case he was finished via knockout or TKO.
Lewis’ one opportunity is to walk Oleinik down, then hammer him on the head. If Lewis touches the cagey Russian with any forceful strike, this fight is over.
Lewis must not allow this fight to get to the mat. He must find a way to strike with the smaller, slighter man and keep this upright. He needs to be aware that his energy is precious and he must finish this bout before becoming vulnerable to the Russian’s trips, slams and tackles. Lewis must go get this man and finish him.
Oleinik must use tactics similar to those he employed in his impressive victory over Werdum. That plan entails using space and distance in the small cage. He’ll have to utilize his awkward, unorthodox striking long enough to take Lewis into the third or fourth round and fatigue him, then transition the fight to the floor, where the “Boa Constrictor” may easily choke the breath out of “The Beast.”
Oleinik has shown recent success, but I believe the UFC is trying to solidify the top six positions in the heavyweight division to keep that most prestigious class relevant and exciting. Nowhere in the UFC’s plan is the name Oleinik.
Lewis opened -280, but as of Thursday evening, his backers were able to find him at -200 at William Hill.