“Statistically, he’s not even supposed to be here.”
May 12, 2011 – Born to a broken home and raised in the rough-and-tumble town of New Orleans, Derrick Lewis has been fighting all his life.
Growing up without a father and with his mother embroiled in an abusive relationship, Lewis was largely left to survive in the unforgiving streets for the majority of his twenty-six years, doing what he had to do just to make it from day-to-day.
Self-admittedly, that attitude and his own mistakes (like fighting in the streets for money) eventually landed Lewis in state prison, where he spent over three years locked up, brooding his past and what he would need to do to turn his life around – something he would have to do in order to avoid a return to the penitentiary or worse, ending up dead, a victim to the streets.
Living in Houston upon his release and standing at the precipice of his life’s ultimate direction, Derrick Lewis realized his turning point in 2009, when he was introduced to Mixed Martial Arts.
A complete stranger to the sport then, having never heard of it before a friends’ suggestion, Derrick seized the opportunity to fight the right (and legal) way by jumping straight into training with Tony Orozco’s Silverback MMA gym. Having found his calling (and what he calls his Silverback family), Lewis hasn’t looked back since.
Two years later, the 6’3” 240+ pound behemoth fans have come to know as “The Black Beast” has collected two heavyweight titles (IXFA and Fight to Win) to add to his 4-1 professional record with an eye towards making a run at a solid MMA career.
Those are the kind of statistics that matter in his life now.
With his stock on the rise, Lewis will be fighting next at Bellator 45 (at the at L’Auberge Du Lac in Lakes Charles) on May 21st against an 8-1 Thiago Santos, a BJJ Brown Belt and vale tudo (no-rules fighting) veteran, known down in Rio as “Big Monster.”
Could “Big Monster” Santos be his biggest test ever?
“Just another guy in the way,” says Lewis. “I’m want to take it even higher and higher with each fight. I don’t see anyone beating me. I don’t care what level they’re on. I’m all heart!”
Looking back before we look forward, one can look at the case of Derrick Lewis as almost ironic in the sense that the violence that plagued his youth may also be the path to his salvation as an adult.
From street thug felon to heavyweight champion and role model to his six siblings that look up to him.
Maybe he’ll be here for a long time after all.
Derrick, before we get into your next fight, I wanted to ask you more about your history. When did you start fighting?
I had a friend of mine introduce me to MMA. I didn’t know anything about it or even heard of it before until like 2009. This cat just kept bothering me saying, “Man, I think you’d be good at it.” I actually used to be a streetfighter, I used to fight in the street for money, something like what Kimbo used to do. But then I saw that this was the right way to do it and I wanted to turn my life around anyway. I couldn’t make a living doing what I used to do and that’s part of the reason I went to prison for like three-and-a-half years so I had to stop fighting in the street.
What was your life like before fighting?
I really grew up in New Orleans. I was born there and that’s where I’m from. I moved to Houston in 1999 because my mom, she was in an abusive relationship so we had to hurry up and leave right away. We had to sneak out of the house while the guy was gone and from there, we came straight to Houston.
What’s the difference between fighting in a trained environment versus fighting in the streets?
Cardio. In street fighting you just get up off the couch and hop straight into it.
Can you tell us a little bit about Silverback? What’s that training environment like there?
It’s like a family environment, you know. It feels like a family, it really does. Everybody speaks their mind. Nobody is talking about you behind your back. Stuff like that. Everybody’s just going to tell you like it is. You can’t go over there with a weak heart because there’s always going to be somebody to tell you how it is. Like if you have a booger in your nose, they’re going to you that you have a booger in your nose. That’s just how it is.
Those of us that train are usually loyal to our teams but you guys seem to take it to a different level with how you guys speak up for each other. Do you all spar hard with that same time of passion against each other also?
Yeah. For example, Jason David Frank, he just got there and it’s like, I’ve been waiting for somebody like this for a long time. We go back and forth, me and Jason. He is the real deal. Coach is always like, “slow down, calm down Jason.” He likes to 100% the whole time. I like to spar hard too. Then you have Dale, Larry, and a guy named Thomas and another guy named David who are both supposed to fight amateur soon. Both of those guys are like 280.
What do you do when you’re not training for a fight yourself?
Probably just sit at the lake to clear my head. I mean, I don’t have a job so I just come to my apartment. I have that because MMA, the sponsors… this pays my bills. This (MMA) isn’t a hobby to me, this is a career so I take my training very seriously. That’s pretty much it.
I have your current record as 4-1, with one loss to Shawn Jordan in Louisiana. What did you learn from that fight?
That loss right there made me focus more on the ground game, wrestling. I really was supposed to push the pressure the whole fight but I was too relaxed. I was way too relaxed and he just kept taking me down, taking me down, taking me down. I had to learn from that.
Ever since you started as a pro, it seems people have doubted you. First they said you couldn’t beat Nick Mitchell, then they said you couldn’t beat Ryan Martinez, and people have always talked about why you shouldn’t fight Sam Hoger instead of why you deserve that fight. What do you think about all that?
That’s just my motivation. I like when they talk like that, like with Sam. You know, I came from nothing. I came from the bottom, you know, all eyes against me. I have that mark on my back already. Nobody’s going around saying that I can be successful anymore.
Well even with that, you’re now #1 in Houston in the heavyweight rankings. What are some of your next goals?
I just want to, you know, stay the course in my MMA career. I also want to go back to college. Before I went to college for like one year but I want to back and finish it.
But you just told me you want to make MMA your career. With that being said, why do you want to go back to school? Tell me more.
I want to show people I can do it… Show my brothers and sisters… I’m really trying to be a role model for them because I know they look up to me. I’m trying to show them that no matter what, you can make something of yourself. You know, we don’t have a father figure around and I’m the oldest boy out of seven kids. I’m also the 2nd oldest out of all of us. Being in this position, I have a responsibility and I’m just trying to show my brothers and sisters that no matter you go through, there is always something you can fall back and that you can’t just give up on life, no matter what.
You mentioned you have an upcoming fight at Bellator 45 at L’Auberge Du Lac in Lake Charles. Can you tell us a little bit about who you’re fighting?
Yeah, it’s a guy named Thiago Santos (8-1) on May 21st. From what I’ve heard, he’s from Brazil, hardly speaks any English, and is from Brazil. He’s a brown belt and I know he’s a veteran of some kind of tournament they have out there called Rio Heroes – video. They head butt, they don’t wear no gloves, and it’s like anything goes. Ain’t no time limit. It’s like whoever wins will come out on top.
Sounds like real vale tudo, which is almost like street fighting.
Yeah exactly, it sounds like street fighting to me so I’m no stranger to that. I love stuff like that.
How did the fight at Bellator 45 get set up?
The guy called me yesterday. I was to get a rematch against Shawn Jordan (Lewis’ first professional loss) but he said that’s he’s not ready to fight me right now so now I’m fighting this other guy.
You’re setting up your own fights? You don’t have a manager doing all that stuff for you?
No, I don’t have a manager.
What’s your mindset like going into this Bellator fight?
You know hopefully I continue to fight for Bellator. I don’t want to go back down to WGC or anything like that. I just want to keep my level and take it even higher and higher with each fight. I don’t want to have to keep coming back down like some of these other fighters. My goal is for every fight soon to be with somebody like Bellator.
Okay. Well obviously, to do that, you have to get by Thiago Santos. How will you beat him?
Second round knockout. It ain’t no secret.
Why not the first round?
Because the first round, I don’t know… It’s almost like it seems boring to me. I don’t know. It’s like I’m too relaxed. I guess I learned from my very first amateur fight. If you’ve seen that fight against Jay Ross, I was really TOO excited, too anxious, and went out there trying to knock the guy’s head off in the first round. I just got gassed out and that’s how I lost that fight. I learned from that fight right there and now, every fight since, I’ve tried to pace myself and by the second round, it’s like I’ve already woken up and then I can go and try to end it.
What’s next after this fight for you?
Supposedly, a fight in June for IXFA. I just got off the phone with them today and they said they want to find someone for sure. After that, it’s July for Legacy, where I’m supposed to be fighting “Titties.” (Darrill Schoonover, of ‘Ultimate Fighter’ fame) So that’s May, June, and July. I just want to stay Busy.
Any last words for before we get out of here?
Yeah, just tell Sam Hoger I’m coming for him.
Also, I want to give a shoutout to DFC, Buda and Mike. Also, I just picked up a new sponsor named Texas Tails, a crawfish company, so I want to give a shoutout to them. Also, Miller Lite, they said that if I win this fight at Bellator 45 they might sponsor me.
And of course thanks to Coach Tony and all the guys at Silverback.