Issue 189

April 2020

The well-rounded heavyweight is getting impatient for a shot at the title and isn’t pulling any punches about the opposition that stand in his way.

You scored a second-round TKO of legend Junior Dos Santos at UFC on ESPN+ 24. The display of striking and that devastating finish were memorable. What specific moments of the fight do you remember?

I definitely remember the finish. That is the best part. I can tell my head movement and my footwork has grown. I’ve gotten much better. There were a few exchanges where I could hear his punches going right past my ears. I could hear the wind going past my ears. Then I would counter and it was just like how we drilled. I can see the growth in my striking.

When things like that click in the Octagon, in mid-fight, where does your mind go? Do you sense it and gain confidence immediately? 

I can smell blood. I could tell he was having a lot of issues finding his timing and his range and I wasn’t. I knew I was at an advantage. It went from us being equal to me hunting him. He was in the defensive. You can just tell by a guy’s stance and just by where his head is. I could see in his body language that he was looking to absorb instead of putting it on me. That just gave me a lot of confidence to press on.

To the finish itself. You landed that one highlight reel right hand that rocked him that led to the knee and the barrage of right hands for the finish. What do you remember about the finish itself?

I remember I missed that lead knee after the right hand. I wanted the bonus. I thought that was it. I thought if I landed that knee that he would fall and I would get the bonus. I missed it and I didn’t get the bonus. I knew he was hurt and I was thinking that this is where you get the bonuses but it didn’t work out.

I know you aren’t overly excited about the traffic jam in the heavyweight division. What are your thoughts on the state of the division right now and where you stand in it?

I have mixed emotions. It’s good that there are all these eyes on the division. It’s good that all of these people are taking about it. People are interested. The more eyes on it and the more people that talk about it, the better for us in the division. Me, being closer to the top, my name gets brought up a decent amount and that’s good for me. On the other hand, it is a bit discouraging. I know the landscape. I have looked at it from every angle and every perspective. I only have two routes right now. I am waiting on this Ngannou vs. Rozenstruik fight in Columbus, Ohio. Hopefully Jairzinho can make something happen and get the ‘W’. I would like to call him out. I know if Ngannou wins that he will be that much closer to a title shot. I wouldn’t want to fight Jairzinho off of a loss. That wouldn’t be worth it. I would be left with Derrick Lewis. That would be my only option.

You said that Derrick Lewis is a backup plan and an easy check for you. Do you stand by that statement?

Especially after watching him live. I was at his last two fights live. I was at the BMF event when he fought Blagoy Ivanov. He didn’t look good in that fight. He looked sloppy. His takedown defense has not grown at all between that fight and this fight with Ilir Latifi. He got taken down and held down by Latifi. If he can do it, I know I can do it. Latifi didn’t put hands on him. I would put elbows in his face.

You mention Lewis’ weaknesses. You are as well-rounded as anyone in the heavyweight division right now. Do you see it that way, too?

I feel like Stipe and I are the most well-rounded. He has boxing, kickboxing and good wrestling. I am the same. I am just a little bit younger.

Speaking of age, you have said recently that you are not waiting around for the older guys in the division. You want your opportunity now. Can you elaborate on that idea?

I just turned 29. This is my prime. I can’t be waiting around for old guys. It’s not your time anymore. You had years at the top. You had your time. If you want to continue to be at the top you have to prove it. Yeah, DC deserves the trilogy but I’m not really interested in it, to be honest. I don’t care who wins. I just want it to hurry up and happen just to give the division some type of movement and trajectory. DC is just holding out for Stipe. What if Stipe doesn’t give him the fight? Does he retire? Does he take on Ngannou? Where does that leave me? I don’t know. 

The huge fight on everyone’s minds right now is the Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes scrap. You are close with Dom. What are your thoughts on the fight and the scoring of the judges?

In terms of the actual fight, Dom won rounds one, two and three. You can’t change my opinion in that one. I rewatched the fight. Even rewatching it I thought Jones had to finish it. I think that is why Dom took his foot off the pedal in the later rounds. He knew when you are aggressive you open yourself up for strikes. He knows Jon is looking for that big knee or that big elbow. He is looking. He was being cautious. I keep hearing Dom was running the whole fight. When you fight Jon Jones you can’t just walk into him. He is longer. You have to find angles. You can’t just go in straight. That’s how Jones wins. People go into him and he hits them with the oblique kicks. He wasn’t able to use those because Dom wasn’t staying in one place too long. I thought that was a great strategy. I thought that was enough for him to win the fight. Yes, it was razor thin. Jones won rounds four and five but I don’t see how he won the overall fight. With the judging, it was screwy judges. I thought Mirsad Bektic won. I thought James Krause won. I thought Ilir Latifi beat Lewis. I don’t know what the criteria is because Lewis won but he was taken down and held down for nine minutes. Jon Jones gets two takedowns that equal about forty seconds and that is enough for him to win. I am confused. I do hope they give Dom the rematch. I really in my heart, feel if Jon Jones really is the champion and G.O.A.T that we all believe him to be, that he would welcome a rematch with Dom Reyes. You want to beat Dom Reyes. If you want to really solidify you claim on that belt, you need to beat Dom.