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Derrick Lewis returns Saturday to the Octagon, headlining UFC Fight Night against surging heavyweight Sergey Spivak.

Lewis was initially scheduled to fight Spivak in November but was forced to pull out of the bout for health reasons. The reason he could not compete had been kept private until now, but Lewis stated it was COVID-19 that prevented him from fighting.

“It was a bummer,” says Lewis. “I wanted to fight. I felt like I trained as hard as I could, but I ended up getting COVID. No one knows this but my family and my coaches. I ended up catching COVID the week of the fight.”

His bout with COVID-19 currently has shown no long-term effects, but it was a difficult process while he was sick.

“I probably had COVID for three weeks after that,” says Lewis. “It was just hard. But I’m feeling good. I trained even harder for this fight. I’ve heard about the suffering that can come from COVID when it comes to your lungs. So I trained hard, and I’m feeling healthy. I haven’t had any issues.”

Healthy and hungry to end a two-fight losing streak, Lewis (26-10, 1 NC) needs this win to push himself back into title contention. Spivak (15-3) will not be an easy opponent, as he possesses a dangerous combination of ground work and power.

“This is the perfect matchup,” says Lewis. “I’m ready for wherever the fight goes. I believe it’s a great fight for me coming off a couple losses. And my birthday is Tuesday. I need a win so I can go out and celebrate my birthday and start the year off right.”

Lewis remains one of the most decorated knockout artists of all time in the cage, but a third consecutive loss will likely remove him from any further main event consideration. At 36, which is eight years older than Spivak, he needs a strong showing here, especially after Sergei Pavlovich defeated him in only 55 seconds last July.

Lewis believes that TKO loss against Pavlovich was called too quickly, which is certainly a legitimate gripe.

“I was not hurt at all,” says Lewis. “He hit me, of course, but it was nothing to stop the fight over. I was very surprised. That [stoppage] still hurts me today.”

If Lewis can defeat Spivak, he will be right back on track—and well within reach of a top-five ranking. It is critical he win this fight, and it is a bout he will need to end early.

“It’s enough talking,” says Lewis. “I’m ready to fight and prove myself, and show that I can still hang with these guys.”