Making the short trip north to Dallas from his hometown of Houston, Derrick Lewis (26-9 MMA, 17-7 UFC) returns to the octagon in a featured bout against Sergei Pavlovich (15-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) on Saturday's "UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes 2" main card.
Sure, there may be a rivalry between sports fans across the two cities: Texans vs Cowboys, Rockets vs Mavericks, but when Lewis is fighting in Texas, fans across the entire state are there to support him. In the past, having all the love and support from family, friends and Houston locals was great at times for "The Black Beast." But on fight night, the nerves were overwhelming.
Lewis lost two fights in the Toyota Center in only a six-month span, dropping an interim title bout against France's Ciryl Gane in the main event of UFC 265, and more recently falling to the surging Tai Tuivasa.
"There's really nothing you can do to get over it," Lewis said, reflecting on his loss to Tuivasa at UFC 271. "That was a tough, hard loss. I believe I trained the hardest I could for that fight, and I believe I was winning the fight.
"I was in a good, winning position and I ended up getting off of him a little more than I should have, and I paid the price for it."
Reevaluating the loss, Lewis and his coaches found errors that led to such a painful result. But fixing those technical issues was the first step in getting Lewis ready to step back into the octagon.
"If I would've grappled more than what we were training, and that was the gameplan, to grapple more, then I believe the outcome would've been a lot better for myself," Lewis said.
As important as it is to fine tune all your skills and correct your mistakes, there are still the nerves that Lewis experienced in the past that could take him away from the gameplan. But when "The Black Beast" arrived in Dallas for fight week, he was overcome with smiles, jokes and all the theatrics that fans grew to love about him over the years.
"I like fighting in Texas. I'm feeling good this week," Lewis said. "I'm excited, happy. It's been a while since I've been really happy during fight week. No nerves, really."
Why is he in such a good mood this time around? There is a reason, but if you think Lewis would share such information in an interview, you couldn't be more wrong.
"There is (a reason), but I'm not going to tell you, so, next question," Lewis joked.
Having such a positive outlook on fighting made accepting his UFC 277 bout against Pavlovich a no brainer. Even with his eyes set on former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, a new face in a division where Lewis has competed since 2014 was enough to make Lewis eager to fight.
"It's not that I wanted to take this fight, it's just they called me for the fight, and I said, ‘OK, I'll take it," Lewis said. "I fought everyone in the division already. It's just another guy that was on the list."
"We wanted to fight Stipe, but Stipe had other plans. We'll see how everything plays out."
But the eagerness stopped there. As long as it was a new face, that's all Lewis worried about. Unlike many fighters who study their opponent for weeks on end to find the holes in their game and create a gameplan, Lewis knows his opponent's name, and that he's got a good right hand.
"My coaches (and I) finally sat down (Tuesday night) and watched video of him," Lewis said. "That's about it."
"He's got a good right hand. That's about it … Nothing else impressed me. I think he's just like any other heavyweight."
And despite leading the UFC in most KO victories in its history with 13, there's no specific path to victory this weekend. As long as he gets his hand raised, he'll be fulfilled.
"Even if it's a controversial win, I'm excited," Lewis said with a subtle grin. "Even if I get a win like that guy (Curtis) Blaydes did last week, I'll be excited, too. I'll grab the mic and make it seem like, I know you're hurt, but I'm happy I won."
This story first published on UFC.com.