Heavyweight finishers Derrick Lewis and Sergey Spivac square off in an explosive headliner at UFC Vegas 68 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The event was originally set to take place in Seoul, South Korea but when “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, the man around whom the card was built, succumbed to a shoulder injury, it was moved to the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
The card is still stacked with fighters from East Asia, including Da Un Jung, who collides with Devin Clark in a light heavyweight co-main event, a returning Doo Ho Choi, who takes on Kyle Nelson at featherweight, and debutant Yusaku Kinoshita, who faces Adam Fugitt at welterweight.
There’s a second heavyweight tilt on tap as well as Marcin Tybura battles Blagoy Ivanov
MAIN CARD (from 8 AM Sunday SA time):
Derrick Lewis (2.90) v Sergey Spivac (1.44) (Light Heavyweight)
The judges will be mere spectators in this heavyweight slugfest as it’s all but guaranteed to end well inside the five-round distance.
It’s a mash-up of monsters who’ve had contrasting fortunes of late and a battle of old warrior versus young warrior. Lewis (26-10) is the veteran who’s just about done it all but fallen into a slump whereas Spivac (15-3) has steadily climbed the ladder to earn this career-changing opportunity.
The pair were initially set to collide in the main event of UFC Vegas 65 in November, but Lewis suffered a medical issue on the day of the fight that forced him to pull out.
A fan-favourite brawler, Lewis is the UFC’s all-time knockout king. “The Black Beast” has blasted 13 foes into oblivion inside the Octagon and boasts 21 knockouts in all. He’s not the fastest or most skillful fighter but the frightening dynamic he has in his hands has made him a mainstay in the heavyweight elite for years.
He’s a former two-time title challenger, holds a win over reigning king Francis Ngannou and has slept top-five contenders such as Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov.
He’s deceptively athletic for a behemoth who cuts weight to make the 265-pound limit, throwing out a jumping knee or switch kick every now and then, and has the patience to stalk his prey and wait for an opening to close the show.
His elite-level experience is a key advantage as this marks his 10th main event, a milestone very few fighters have reached, whereas it’s Spivak’s first time headlining a card.
Winning five of his last six has brought Spivac to this point and elevated him to 12th in the rankings, five places behind Lewis, who’s coming off back-to-back knockout losses. It’s important to note Lewis faced far stiffer competition and represents a serious step up for Spivac.
Like most of Lewis’ opponents, “The Polar Bear” is more well-rounded with seven of his wins coming by knockout and six by submission. The Moldovan will certainly look to mix it up and is 10 years younger than his record-setting rival at 27.
Lewis is used to being the underdog. It’s a tag he wears like one of his tattoos, mainly because he’s such a one-dimensional slugger. With his knack for landing fight-finishing haymakers, he’s 6-4 as a dog and a great value bet.
The big question here is how motivated is he? He’s never lost to an up-and-comer outside of the top 10 like Spivac and he’ll know that if he does, it’ll signal the end of his time among the elite and could even lead to him retiring.
His body transformation for the fight provides the answer to that question which, along with his track record will see a slimmed-down Lewis defy the odds again with another knockout inside the first three rounds.
Da Un Jung (1.41) v Devin Clark (3.00) (Light Heavyweight)
The co-headliner looks set to be a showcase for Jung (15-3-1). He holds almost all the cards – he’s bigger, stronger, faster, and younger, as well as the bigger power puncher (11 knockouts) and smarter fighter.
The only advantage Clark (13-7) has is big-time experience. While he only has one more fight than Jung, “The Brown Bear” has spent just over two-thirds of his career in the Octagon, going 7-7 with six of those wins coming by decision.
This will be Jung’s seventh fight in the UFC. He’s 4-1-1 in the promotion with three of those wins coming by stoppage.
He’ll add a fourth here as he’s the superior striker and athlete and will capitalise on Clark’s weak defence to bounce back from his loss to Dustin Jacoby, which snapped his 12-fight unbeaten run.
Marcin Tybura (1.74) v Blagoy Ivanov (2.15) (Heavyweight)
Well-rounded heavyweights face off in the featured bout. The rankings aren’t always a true reflection of the difference in class between combatants but it is in this case as 10th-ranked Tybura (23-7) is a cut above 15th-ranked Ivanov (19-4).
Ivanov does hold a signature win over Tai Tuivasa, which came in 2019, but it’s his sole success in the upper echelon. Tybura has beaten the likes of headliner Spivac, Walt Harris, Stefan Struve and former champion Andrei Arlovski, while he went the distance in a five-round main event with ex-titleholder Fabricio Werdum and with Alexander Volkov.
He’s the more prolific striker, stands four inches taller than “Baga” at 6’3″ and will have a five-inch reach advantage. Both men are among the better jiu-jitsu players in the heavyweight division, boasting six submissions each, which is bad news for Ivanov as it negates his biggest strength.
As a result, Tybura will triumph, most likely by decision as Ivanov has a great chin. The damage the Bulgarian has endured over the years will take its toll at some point, however, so I’m happy taking “Tybur” on the money line.
Doo Ho Choi (1.55) v Kyle Nelson (2.55) (Featherweight)
Fan favourite Choi (14-4) makes his much-anticipated return after a three-year absence. “The Korean Superboy” is a thrilling striker who’s already earned a place in the UFC Hall of Fame for the classic battle he had with Cub Swanson in 2016.
Nelson (13-5) is solid everywhere but hasn’t looked UFC calibre during his time in the big league. He’s won just one of his five fights in the promotion and was finished in three of his four losses.
Choi, who boasts a dozen knockouts, has the power and technique to turn Nelson’s lights out. His break from the sport came at the right time and being reinvigorated should see Choi return with a bang.
Yusaku Kinoshita (1.30) v Adam Fugitt (3.70) (Light Welterweight)
Kinoshita (6-1) will be keen to make a lasting first impression when he opens the main card opposite Fugitt (8-3). Providing highlights just so happens to be his speciality as all of his wins are stoppages (four knockouts and two submissions), five of which came in the first round, with the other in the third against Jose Henrique last August.
Fugitt (8-3) is a top striker and an entertainer in his own right with all but one of his wins coming by finish (four knockouts and three submissions), so strap in for a fun opener that won’t go the distance.
Twelfth-ranked Walker (19-7) has the same mindset. He’s only gone to the scorecards twice. A towering striker, 15 of his 18 finishes are knockouts. As valuable as his six-inch reach advantage is his unpredictability. One never knows what he’ll throw next, which along with his range, should see the local favourite score another KO.
Fugitt’s flaw is his shoddy defence. He absorbs essentially twice as many significant strikes as Kinoshita, which saw him get finished by Michael Morales in his promotional debut last time out and will result in another stoppage loss against the fast and accurate 22-year-old newcomer, whose lone loss was by disqualification for grabbing the fence