UFC 265: Lewis and Gane Seek Elite Status with Interim Title Victory

Derrick Lewis UFC Vegas 19
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 20: Derrick Lewis reacts after his knockout victory over Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Fan-favorite Derrick Lewis will be looking to electrify his city when he takes on undefeated talent Ciryl Gane for the interim title at UFC 265.

It is not difficult to imagine exactly why the UFC would make the call to put Derrick Lewis in a pay-per-view headliner in his hometown of Houston.  “The Black Beast” is a popular and consistently exciting fighter who long ago won the heart of his city when he helped his community during the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey back in 2017.  What his or Gane’s victory means for current champion Francis Ngannou, Jon Jones, and Stipe Miocic, only time will tell.  But in terms of filling a venue at a time when the promotion is pushing for the return of full capacity crowds, there are only a handful of fighters who could do it better than Lewis in Houston.

It should be stated, Lewis enters the bout as the unanimous number one contender.  He enters the bout on a four fight win-streak that includes a Knockout of the Year candidate against Curtis Blaydes in February.  That adds to his resume that already lists Alexander Volkov, Aleksei Oleinik, and Ngannou (albeit in an unusual contest) as his victims.  There is no question that a Lewis victory on Saturday would make him an even bigger star and intensify the interest for a rematch with Ngannou.

Ciryl Gane’s record may not suggest he is at the level of title contender, but he has proven himself to be one of the most talented newcomers to enter the UFC heavyweight division in recent years.  At 9-0, he does not carry the wealth of experience that most of the division (and rest of the roster for that matter) has, but his results have established him as a top contender ready for a jump to the elite level.  After entering the UFC at a modest 3-0, the French native has reeled off six straight victories over opponents such as former champion Junior dos Santos, Alexander Volkov, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and Tanner Boser.

While much of the anticipation will revolve around the pre-fight talk from Lewis and the potential for a rematch against his familiar foe Ngannou, Gane carries his own level of intrigue that could reach maturation with a victory over the veteran.  “Bon Gamin” is a former training partner of Ngannou when the two worked in France before “The Predator” moved to the United States and eventually made his way to Xtreme Couture.  While the two spent much of their careers on different paths, the storyline of the two crossing paths at such a juncture would be an interesting battle in its own right.  Consider, Gane would enter the bout as an undefeated phenom to take on arguably the most dominant heavyweight force seen in years.

Gane will have to deal with the physicality of Lewis and keep a disciplined defense throughout the night.  Gane has shown an impressive gas tank across five rounds recently, but it has been seen that Lewis has scored finishes even in the later rounds and as such he must beware of taking more risks even later in the fight when Lewis begins to slow down.  Footwork and timing will be key as Gane must work to get in-and-out with short combinations with Lewis, longer combinations will give Lewis opportunities to counter.  For Lewis, checking kicks and coming forward will be the key as he must take care not to absorb excessive damage as he tries to close the distance.  Most expect Lewis to have the advantage in the pocket and one figures the decision is likely to go his way if he can keep the majority of each round at close range.

While the winner of this bout is the logical number one contender, there is speculation of whether or not they will be used as leverage in negotiations for the super fight between Francis Ngannou and longtime light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones.  While Ngannou is holding out for what is the biggest fight to be made in the entire sport, the road to complete a deal on Jones’ side has been fraught with delay.  Considering Jones has not fought in over a year and a half, having an interim champion could be seen as a move that pushes Jones’ team to make a deal or prolong what has already been a long layoff.