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Win or Lose, Fans Will Always Love Stephen Thompson and Derrick Lewis

By Timothy James  |  December 22, 2021  |  No Comments

Win or Lose, Fans Will Always Love Stephen Thompson and Derrick Lewis

Image via COMBATE

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the determining factor inside the UFC octagon is skill. Of course, the lines can become a bit blurred at heavyweight, but even still. Almost always, the fighter who comes out on top is the fighter with superior skills in mixed martial arts.

That being said, skill inside the octagon only takes you so far. In fact, in terms of popularity with the fans, it could be argued that skill is barely a factor. That isn’t to say that being a dominant force in the UFC won’t help. But, for better or worse, it isn’t skill that seems to connect fans more closely than with others.

One need only look at the most popular fighters in the UFC to realize this reality. What do Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz, and Jorge Masvidal all have in common right now? They’re all coming off back-to-back losses. McGregor has won a single fight since becoming the champ-champ back in 2016, Diaz is 15-11 under the UFC banner, and Jorge Masvidal 3-4 in his last 7 fights, most recently getting flatlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.

No serious fan would consider these men the most skilled fighters in the UFC right now. And yet, they remain the organization’s biggest stars. You can chalk it up to their marketing abilities, call it their ‘x-factor,’ their appeal to the casuals. Call it whatever you want. At the end of the day, skill doesn’t factor into the equation.

The superstars seem to have an ability to get just as many people who root against them as they do for them. That seems to be a key part of the formula. A lot of the people who bought Mayweather vs. Pacquiao weren’t rooting for Pac to win as much as they were hoping to watch Mayweather lose.

Then there are guys like Leon Edwards. Leon has been with the UFC since 2014 and is currently on a 9 fight win streak. He’s inarguably one of the best welterweights on the planet. And yet, the fans don’t seem to love him. More people seem to remember him getting wobbled by Nate Diaz in the fifth round of their fight than the other 24 minutes and 45 seconds where Leon dominated the fight.

Some guys just aren’t adept at connecting with the fans. They rely on their skills to do the talking. But, as we’ve gone over, skills aren’t the most effective way to do that.

But there’s another class of athlete that every sport has: the fan favorites. The guys and gals that everyone seems to love, regardless of their performance. People always want to see them win and everyone hates it when they lose.

Fan favorites connect to the fans in ways that superstars can’t. They’re the everyman. The athletes who you would love to get a beer with. The people who make you want to watch for the glimpse into their personality as much as their propensity for violence inside the cage.

Image via COMBATE

Stephen Thompson and Derrick Lewis are the embodiment of what a fan favorite is. They may not be the best, but it’s damn near impossible not to like these guys. And if you do, there’s probably something wrong with you.

It highlights the range of ways you can get the crowd on your side, too. Wonderboy and the Black Beast don’t have a ton in common other than being adored by fans. 

Thompson has an “aw shucks,” boy-band look with a preternatural niceness to him. The guy is so nice, he tells his opponent “good job” after a round where he got his ass kicked. He seems like he should be a youth pastor at your local church, not a guy who fights people for a living.

His unique skill set also plays a key role. There aren’t many karate specialists left in the UFC, and Wonderboy’s in-and-out style can be downright mesmerizing. Longtime fans of the sport have seen a variety of BJJ specialists, wrestlers, and nak-muays dominate the playing field. But there’s only been a handful of karate specialists.

So, even though Thompson got dominated this weekend by Belal Muhammed, his stock isn’t going to be hurt with the fans. People are always going to love him.

On the other side of things is Derrick Lewis. The man just might be the funniest fighter in the history’s organization. It’s not just the outlandish things he says, it’s his pitch-perfect deadpan delivery.

Of course, being the sole owner of the UFC knockouts record helps. Whether you can help it or not, the first thing everyone thinks when they think “heavyweight fight” is a devastating one punch KO. And the Black Beast serves them up like spicy Popeyes chicken sandwiches.

The man defies logic, too. We’ve heard the trope of the casual saying something like “BJJ doesn’t work, why don’t they just stand up?” Well, Derrick Lewis actually just stands up. The man doesn’t move well, and yet throws jumping switch kicks.

The man gets pieced up on the feet, yet finds a way to land a last second bomb to close out the fight. On paper, he’s supposed to get wrestled to death by superior grapplers, and yet he sends them to the shadow realm with hellacious uppercuts.

Image via COMBATE

He also has one of the UFC’s feel good stories. After getting sent to prison, he turned his life around by finding MMA. He never thought he’d be one of the best, he was just looking for a way to provide for his family without getting involved in crime. And here he is today, one of the best heavyweights on the planet.

So, even if Derrick Lewis had lost against Chris Daukaus this past weekend, fans would still love him. Fortunately for us fans of the Black Beast, he defunded the police instead of getting ‘Rodney King’ed.’

Some fighters become superstars. Some fighters never reach the levels of popularity that their skills deserve. And others become adored by fans, regardless of those factors.

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