Heart of a champion

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Still sporting two black eyes from the fight that nearly cost him his life, mixed martial artist Dean Lewis revealed yesterday that he plans to resume his fighting career in Winnipeg.

"I love the sport. I love to fight. I've been a fighter in one aspect or another all my life," Lewis said. "It's my personality. It's who I am. When the time's right, I'm going to be in there."

The 19-year-old from Fort McMurray, Alta., is back in the Manitoba capital this week for the first time since suffering serious injuries in a fight against Winnipeg's Eric Perez on Feb. 6 at the inaugural Canadian Fighting Championship. In a unique twist, Lewis will be in Perez's corner tomorrow night for CFC 2 at the Convention Centre.

Lewis was hospitalized for five days after suffering a subdural hematoma, a broken orbital bone, a severe concussion and a badly broken nose in his three-round bout against Perez. The incident, which made national headlines, caused a Winnipeg city councillor to call for an MMA ban at city-run facilities like the Convention Centre.

Despite his serious injuries and despite the fact his doctors at Health Sciences Centre told him he would never fight again, Lewis told the Sun in March that he planned to one day return to the ring. It looks like that will now happen in Winnipeg under the guidance of CFC president and trainer Giuseppe DeNatale.

"I trained with him this week, and it was a lot more intense than my training back home," said Lewis, who plans to move to Winnipeg in the next year. "And also there's no commission or promotion for MMA in my hometown.

"It'd be nice to train here and fight in CFC, be the hometown boy for once."

DeNatale, a former world champion kickboxer, praised Lewis for his intestinal fortitude.

"I've always cheered for the underdog, and Dean is truly a comeback kid," DeNatale said. "I've not seen heart like this kid has in a long time.

"This is one of the toughest dudes I know. People said he would never fight again. You know what I call courage? Courage I define as knowing the pain you're going to go through and still doing it anyways. That's what makes a champion. Dean is all heart.

"When -- not if -- but when he gets medically cleared, I will promote his comeback fight."

Although he is eager to return to the ring, Lewis is listening carefully to his doctors and trainers. He has made several trips to Edmonton for CT scans and MRIs in the past few months, and he reports that he has healed fully. There is no timetable for his return.

"There doesn't seem to be any permanent damage done to me," said Lewis, who has a pro record of 1-2. "I'm not really taking it easy. I've been training ever since I got back home.

"But I'm not going to take anymore blows to the head until I for sure know I'm not going to reinjure myself."

Winnipeg's Joe (El Dirte) Doerksen has more than 50 career fights under his belt and will headline tomorrow night's card against France's Greg (Blade) Babene. He believes it's up to Lewis to decide whether or not he should return to the ring.

"He needs to make sure he's healthy, and then after that it just comes down to: Do you want to or don't you?" Doerksen said. "His injury was serious, but he got the proper medical attention. He's taking the time to heal up. He's not forcing himself back in at any given time. He's not pushing the timetable. He's giving his body the time it takes to rest and the time it needs.

"When he feels that it's time and the doctors feel that he's healthy, then it's up to him to make that decision. If his health is back to 100% and he wants to do it again, then absolutely he needs to do it."

Perez, who has become good friends with Lewis since their bloody battle, said having him in his corner for his fight against Montreal's Dmitri Waardenburg, should provide "good luck" and "inspiration."

Lewis said it shouldn't come as a surprise that he and Perez, a 30-year-old insurance salesman, have become close.

"If you've ever played any sport and you compete at the highest level of someone that takes you to the limit of your potential, you earn respect for them," Lewis said. "So I earned a lot of respect for Eric in that fight, and I was honoured when he asked me to be in his corner."


Videos

Photos