Sure, the heavyweight championship is on the line at UFC 230.
But for Daniel Cormier and challenger Derrick Lewis, their biggest beef is over chicken.
Their chicken challenge goes back to July when the fighters shared the dais after they both fought on the same pay-per-view card. Cormier was feeling great after he flattened Stipe Miocic and won the heavyweight crown. Lewis also won and continued his ascent into contention.
The fighters joked for a while before Lewis could finally find a reason to dislike Cormier: “He disrespected that Popeye’s chicken on a commercial a few years ago .” A shirtless Cormier had starred in a parody video of “All About That Bass ,” and danced with drumsticks out of a Popeye’s box. Lewis mimicked Cormier’s moves from the video at the news conference and both fighters erupted into laughter.
This kind of hype wasn’t exactly brimming with the nastiness of Conor McGregor throwing a hand truck at a bus to get at his foe.
But Lewis (21-5) showed he’s no chicken when comes to accepting title fights on short notice: He’s fighting Cormier for the belt Saturday at Madison Square Garden just one month after knockout win at UFC 229.
“I’ve got into the octagon into this quicker before I made it into UFC,” Lewis said. “It’s not going to be a problem at all. I just had to stay longer in the gym.”
Cormier (21-1, 1 no-contest) fights for now as both the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champ, though his days as a dual champion are numbered no matter the outcome against Lewis. Cormier will be stripped of his light heavyweight title and the 205-pound crown will go to the winner of the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson bout at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas.
Cormier was a bit of a surprise main eventer in a card that has been shuffled because of injuries and the dire need to find a quality main event at MSG. He broke his right hand in the Miocic fight and had been posturing for a potential fight against former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
But with UFC desperate for a worthy main event, Cormier was offered a payday he could not refuse. Plus, the allure of putting his name on the top of the marquee for a title defense at MSG appealed to his ego.
“It’s massive to me to headline the Garden,” Cormier said. “Stuff like that means something to me, which is a bit dangerous because the UFC knows, if they dangle the carrot, they know they can get me to bite by putting all that historical stuff in front of me. Legacy matters to me.”
The 33-year-old Lewis also can’t wait to get to the Garden.
“It’s where all the famous fighters put down their mark in the sport,” he said.
Lewis fights weeks after he took 129 significant strikes (78 to the head) in his win against Alexander Volkov. He’s won eight of his last nine fights (three straight) on the strength of his significant knockout power that makes him a threat should he connected on that one devastating punch.
But Cormier has solidified himself as one of MMA’s greatest fighters and most dominant wrestlers. Cormier has never lost to anyone except Jones, the star-crossed former light heavyweight champion who beat him twice. The second bout last year was changed to a no-contest when Jones failed a doping test that kept him out of the sport for 15 months.
Cormier said a KO was the only way he could lose.
“He’s just a real nice, fun-loving guy but when he gets in there, he tries to knock your head off,” Cormier said.
Lewis has also cashed on some notoriety that came from a PG-13 answer as to why he stripped off his shorts inside the cage after beating Volkov. His defense of Popeye’s caught the eye of the fried chicken chain and one of the franchises is offering free food should Lewis win .
Cormier retaliated in the fast-food fight by throwing his weight behind burger joint Carl’s Jr. Carl’s changed its handle to “Daniel Cormier fan account” and tweeted, “DMs are open DC let’s shake this out .”
With a diet of burgers and chicken, Cormier weighed in at a career-high 251.2 pounds for the fight. And he’ll be keeping an eye on his waistline - the one he expects to still be wrapped with the title belt after Saturday night.
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