New free agent Derrick Lewis would be insane to not go after Francis Ngannou in PFL

If Derrick Lewis is after the biggest fight, there is none bigger than 'The Predator'.

By: Evan Zivin | 5 days ago

Hot balls or not, Derrick Lewis knew that he needed to deliver at UFC 291. On a three fight skid, there was no question another loss may not only have knocked him out of the UFC rankings but could have seen him removed from the UFC entirely.

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But now, after having gone Beast Mode on Marco Rogério de Lima, blasting him with a flying knee in the opening seconds of the fight and finishing it a short time after, we’ve learned of an interesting predicament the heavyweight finds himself in:

Derrick Lewis has fought out his contract and is now a free agent.

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The main question that came to mind when he revealed that information inside the cage after his victory was “How the hell did UFC let that happen?”

It’s hard to say goodbye when UFC wants it to be

I mean, there’s certainly a class of fighter where, if they choose to fight out their contract, UFC will let them. Typically, though, it’s going to be a class of fighter where the value in keeping them around is not perceived as being very high, or at least not high enough to justify paying them whatever they’ve been earning or whatever they’re asking for in a new contract.

That situation, for example, happened earlier this year when Ilir Latifi fought out his contract and chose to not re-sign with the UFC. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love me some “Sledgehammer.” However, I can understand that he had a very up and down career and, if he wasn’t interested in continuing to fight or fight at whatever terms UFC was willing to offer him, then there likely wasn’t much love lost in the promotion letting him walk.

These scenarios are rare, though, with the reason being the UFC doesn’t like letting fighters finish their contracts. They will almost always try to negotiate a new deal before the old expires and most fighters, knowing they aren’t likely to find anything better on the open market, choose not to test the waters and willingly re-sign. It’s one of the ways UFC manages to keep fighters locked up for so many years at a time.

But there are fighters who do want to reach the end of their contracts, either because they want to know their worth and see what offers they can get from other promoters, or because they just want to leave the UFC.

For every amicable split, there’s a Nate Diaz situation, where he went so far as to say he was being held hostage for months before UFC finally booked the last fight of his contract, one that was viewed as an execution before UFC was forced to play musical chairs with the UFC 279 lineup and inadvertently gave Nate the sendoff he deserved all along.

Or, more relevant to Derrick Lewis’s current situation, there’s what happened to Francis Ngannou. I won’t go through all the details, as we’ve done it to death on this site. You all know that Francis didn’t like the terms UFC presented to him and, as soon as he was able to get out, he did. He then signed a lucrative contract to compete for PFL next year while successfully inking a contract to fight Tyson Fury in a blockbuster boxing main event this October in Saudi Arabia.

Hate the situation all you want but you have to admit that Francis made out good. Daniel Cormier gave him props. Jon Jones even gave a rival promotion publicity just so he could get a faceoff with the foe he may or may not have been ducking for the last three years.

Jon missed out on his chance to make history with Francis but you know who could still do it?

Derrick Lewis.

Excuse me for a second while I blow on the “BE hates UFC” dog whistle…

Derrick Lewis is the answer to Francis Ngannou’s prayers

We all know that, while the PFL deal is great on paper, there are a lot of unknowns that could bust the whole thing, the biggest one being Ngannou’s first opponent. The plan is for Francis to compete on Payperview, which means, for the event to be successful, there’s a lot riding on who he fights and, while the PFL roster has some decent prospects on it, they’re all relative unknowns. They could sink a ton of money into promoting the winner of their heavyweight tournament as being the guy to face the former UFC Heavyweight Champion but it’s probably going to be a tough sell.

There’s been speculation about fighters like Fabricio Werdum or Junior dos Santos being available but neither of them have been relevant in years. KSW Heavyweight Champion Phil de Fries wants the opportunity, which could work if they stage the event somewhere in Europe. Otherwise, forget about it.

No, I think the answer to this question of who Francis should fight may be standing right in front of us. And he probably needs to put his pants back on.

Derrick Lewis has already said that his intention is to re-sign with the UFC but is that what he really wants? If he plans to stay with the UFC, why did he fight out his contract? Why didn’t he negotiate a new one before Saturday night?

Was there concern that he wouldn’t get good terms unless he could get a win first? He definitely came into the de Lima fight with a lot of pressure to perform and, while it ended up working out for him, what if it didn’t? Would he still want to re-sign? Would the UFC have even been interested in keeping him around? Are they interested in keeping him around now?

Common sense says that UFC will offer him a new contract. They know he’s a popular fighter with fans (and with the media, even as he likes to be jokingly combative with them) and, more times than not, he delivers inside the cage. You don’t set the record for most knockouts in UFC history by point fighting.

Don’t forget, though, that, for as much as UFC may like Derrick Lewis, he has been slipping down the card. The only reason he got on the pay-per-view portion of 291 was because of Stephen Thompson’s fight with Michel Pereira getting scratched after Michel missed weight and “Wonderboy” refused to fight at a catchweight (and didn’t get paid for it, which should be a crime).

Good thing that Derrick Lewis and his abs came to save the day but that doesn’t matter much. He’d likely get another ranked opponent in his next fight but that doesn’t mean he won’t still get buried in the prelims of some Apex show whenever it happens.

No fighter should lose sight of what really matters

What is Derrick Lewis fighting for? Is it pride? Money? That thing referred to as “legacy”? He says he can make another run to the title but how likely is that to happen? He’s already lost to Cyril Gane and Sergei Pavlovich in the last two years (plus others) so it seems unlikely he’ll be sniffing a championship anytime soon. The man is 38. How many more years does he want to keep doing this grind?

If he’s looking for pride and money and “legacy,” why not sign with PFL and face the lineal champion? Not only does Derrick Lewis have history with Francis, he has a win over the man. Derrick could be reasonably hyped up as being the one responsible for making Francis the monster he is today.

We could have had the chance to see the rematch happen in the UFC (it didn’t because UFC tried to force Francis into a quick turnaround after becoming champ and he didn’t bite) but now we could see it happen as the headliner of the first PFL pay-per-view. What a great way to celebrate what both men have accomplished in their careers.

Oh and did I mention the money? Remember how Francis got it written into his contract that whoever he faces is guaranteed to make at least $2 million? UFC isn’t going to offer Derrick Lewis that kind of money to fight. That sure would pay for a lot of whatever it is Derrick Lewis is eating now that he’s off the Popeye’s wagon.

Plus, it’s not like Derrick Lewis couldn’t sign with PFL, get the Francis megafight, and then go back to the UFC. That’s what Nate is planning to do after he boxes Jake Paul this Saturday and, while it’s possible UFC doesn’t take Derrick back, they probably will. Because who doesn’t love Derrick Lewis?

I’m saying all this being fully aware that the UFC will likely make things difficult for Derrick if he chooses to leave. One would assume a top priority right now is keeping all the heavyweights locked up so they aren’t able to chase the Ngannou payday. Maybe they’re taking a gamble and trusting that Derrick Lewis is loyal enough to do the right thing.

Just like they gambled that Dricus du Plessis could beat Robert Whittaker in July and then fight Israel Adesanya in September. Oh wait

Hopefully, Derrick Lewis will recognize the right thing here as being what is, overall, the best option for him. And, while the right thing may very well be to stick with the one who brought him to the dance, he’d be crazy to not think through his options and consider that things might be greener and less sweaty elsewhere.

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About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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