Derrick Lewis (26-10 MMA, 17-8 UFC) sees everyone looking at him a little differently as he readies to take on Serghei Spivac (15-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) in the main event of this weekend's return to the UFC Apex.
After years of being a fixture in the title conversation and having challenged for championship gold twice, the man with the most knockout wins in UFC history is looking to snap out of a funk that has resulted in consecutive losses and three defeats in his last four appearances, and he notices the different kind of looks he's been getting heading into this weekend.
"I know everybody is looking at me with one eye right now like, 'Um, I don't know,' so I'm gonna go out there and show them that I'm still that guy," Lewis said, chasing his words with a deep, baritone chuckle.
"It's crazy because now I feel like while I've been taking my training camp serious, people aren't taking me serious."
The sentiment from the top 10 stalwart and main event staple is understandable, but so too is the hesitation from others to buy into his pledge that he's taking things seriously, because Lewis feels a little like the boy who cried wolf when it comes to declaring he's taking things seriously in the gym.
While addressing a knee injury that contributed to the back issues that plagued Lewis throughout his ascent to challenging for the heavyweight title at UFC 230 four years ago in New York City certainly unlocked the ability to put more time into strength and conditioning, the performances have always looked like carbon copies of each other.
For the most part, the victories feature Lewis finding a home for a clubbing blow that momentarily sends his opponents to a different astral plane, while the losses have starred more focused, more aggressive foes marching down the menacing power hitter and causing him to cover up or crumple to the canvas.
The victories show he still has perhaps the most dangerous one-punch power in all the sport, while the setbacks showed that despite promises to the contrary, nothing much had really changed when it came to training, preparation, and performing against the absolute best the division has to offer.
But this time does feel a little different.
Though they're still close friends, Lewis is no longer working with long-time head coach Kru Bob Perez, entrusting Joe Murphy to organize and execute his training camp ahead of the weekend's fight with Spivac.
"He's still a friend of mine and we're still good friends, but he's no longer coaching me," he said of Perez, who had been a permanent fixture in his corner throughout his UFC career until prior to his last outing. "I switched up my training camp and I'm doing some things a little different to get some motivation going.
"It's a great feeling going to the gym now," added Lewis, stringing those words together in that particular order for perhaps the first time in his career. "I'm not getting sick of doing my training regimen. I'm real happy about even going to training now."
The catalyst for these changes and shift in outlook regarding training is that Lewis hasn't had his hand raised in nearly a year, and is at risk of having his first year without a victory in his UFC career.
His last win came in the final bout of 2021, where he knocked out Chris Daukaus to establish a new record for the most knockout wins in UFC history. This year, he landed on the wrong side of a second-round stoppage against Tai Tuivasa at home in Houston at UFC 271, and then dropped his follow-up fight to Sergei Pavlovich five months later at UFC 277 in less than a minute.
Nearly months later, he's still sour about that fight being stopped as quickly as it was.
"I got addicted to winning," Lewis said when asked what prompted him to switch things up and jump into this weekend's clash with Spivac. "I'm winning in life, but I also want to win in the octagon, as well. I miss that feeling – it's almost been a year since I had that feeling, had that sensation, so that's what I'm chasing right now is being a winner.
"I don't know what it feels like any more," he said in regards to having his hand raised inside the octagon. "It's been so long that I don't know what it feels like any more. I'm usually fighting more often than this, so we'll see."
While the structure of his camp and the composition of his corner has changed, some things will always remain the same for the popular fan favorite.
He'll still stride to the octagon to the sound of Fat Pat's "Tops Drop," he'll still pound his chest like a silverback when he's introduced, and when the referee tells him it's time to fight, he'll still come out swangin' and bangin' like he always has.
"Of course you'll still see the swangin' and bangin'; that's the way of my life," he said when asked if the changes included a different approach in the cage. "But also, if we have to switch it up and do some wrestling, I'm down with it."
It remains to be seen if Lewis will, in fact, be willing to wrestle if need be, but for the first time in some time, he sounds genuinely excited to make the walk on Saturday night.
Maybe it's because there isn't the pressure of fighting in Houston or his adopted home state of Texas, as he's done in each of his previous two fights this year and each of his last three losses.
Maybe it's because he's returning to Las Vegas, where he's 8-0 in his UFC career.
Or maybe it's because he's actually committed to making changes to his training camp and is truly eager to show everyone that he's serious this time.
"It's fine if everyone is underestimating me," he said, acknowledging the position he's in heading into Saturday's marquee matchup. "It's great; I love being underestimated. I believe I'll get the job done, and I believe this is a perfect matchup to get the job done; to go out there and show everyone these skills that I've learned over the last few months."
This story first published at UFC.com.