Ahead of another championship opportunity, Derrick Lewis just wanted to find a way to chill.
Lewis fought Ciryl Gane for an interim heavyweight title at UFC 265 this past August, but his second crack at UFC gold didn’t go his way as he was finished with strikes in the third round. Making the opportunity even more stressful for Lewis was the fact that the fight happened at the Toyota Center in front of his hometown crowd in Houston.
During an interview on The MMA Hour, Lewis revealed that the pressure of fighting at home had a major effect on him, to the point that he sought out a means of relaxation that officials likely wouldn’t approve of.
“I don’t even want to experience that ever again,” Lewis said. “It was too much pressure, too much pressure. Too much.
“To the point where I really was calling people up, let me get some weed off ‘em so I can relax my nerves during fight day. That type of pressure,” he added.
Lewis, the No. 4 heavyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, has fought numerous contenders in his seven-year run with the UFC, scoring wins over the likes of Curtis Blaydes, Alexander Volkov, and current undisputed champion Francis Ngannou.
Still, Lewis said the pressure of fighting in Houston was only comparable to a personal experience when he was younger and faced jail time for a charge of aggravated assault. Lewis ended up serving three-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence and he noted that the day of his fight with Gane was right around the 13-year-anniversary of his release date.
“Never felt it that bad,” Lewis said. “Actually, before court. Before I went to court, before they gave me some time to go to prison. That’s the other time I felt so much pressure, but other than that it was the Houston card. It was pretty bad as well.
“[UFC 265] was the same day that I got out, the same day I fought. It was, like, 13 years to that day, it was the same day I was released. So I put a lot of pressure on myself as well because it would have made a great story. From the worst of times to the best of times.”
Even after it was all over, Lewis felt no relief. The sting of another championship defeat lingered, and if he regrets anything, it’s not coming out swinging as he has so many times in the past, win or lose.
“I don’t think it was like a weight lifted,” Lewis said of his feelings after the fight. “Just real embarrassed. I felt embarrassed to fight. Felt embarrassed, I felt like I should have did a lot more than what I did. I was gun-shy the whole fight. I didn’t want to pull the trigger and I was too stationary. It’s a lot of stuff.
“I could go on and on about a lot of things that I should have done different in that fight, but it just didn’t happen, so you’ve got to just move on and just better myself. If that time comes again and we face each other again, it will be a different outcome, I believe.”
Despite his trepidation when it comes to fighting in his hometown, Lewis is reportedly set to fight Tai Tuivasa at UFC 271 in Houston on Feb. 12. It remains to be seen how he’ll deal with the pressure differently, as he and his team feel that fighting in front of so many familiar faces contributed to his poor performance against Gane.
“I say that all the time,” Lewis said. “I believe so, all the time. My coaches believe that as well. Everyone believes it would have been a lot different if it wasn’t in Houston. On that big of a stage and all of that stuff going on, I don’t believe the outcome would have ended like it did.”