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Derrick Lewis Prison, Rough Past Led To UFC Stardom

11/2/2018 4:15 PM PDT

Derrick Lewis Says Prison, Rough Past Led To UFC Stardom

EXCLUSIVE

Derrick Lewis is fighting Daniel Cormier at MSG for the UFC heavyweight championship ... but it wouldn't have been possible if he didn't spend over 3 years in prison.

"I think about my past and stuff like that," Lewis tells TMZ Sports

"I believe that if I didn't go through stuff that I went through in my past, I wouldn't be as successful like I am now here today."

Back when he was in college, Lewis was sent to prison for 3 and a half years after violating probation stemming from a case where he beat the hell out of a Ku Klux Klan member who had a shotgun.

After prison, Lewis got work as a tow truck driver ... before being convinced to take up MMA.

Saturday night, he's fighting to become the baddest man on the planet.

"I'm an optimistic guy. But, I never imagined this was possible," Lewis told us.

"If I can do it, anybody can do it. I guarantee you can. I've been having people doubt me all my life. I've been through so much stuff that I hope even my enemies wouldn't have to go through."

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