There’s a lot going on in the UFC heavyweight division these days. Saturday’s UFC 265 begins the road to clarity.
An interim heavyweight title fight headlines the card at Toyota Center in Houston, with top-ranked contenders Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane set to collide in a bout that will determine who faces Francis Ngannou in a title unification match later this year.
The original plan for the card called for Ngannou to defend his belt against Lewis (25-7 MMA, 16-5 UFC). However, Ngannou was not able to prepare effectively for the date, and the promotion ultimately went to Gane (9-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) as a solution to keep the weight class moving.
Although he should’ve been fighting for the undisputed belt, Lewis is not bothered by his situation. “The Black Beast” resides in Houston, and he’s just happy to compete in front of his people in the headliner of an event that airs exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view beginning at 10 p.m. ET. Prelims begin at 6 p.m. ET.
Moreover, Lewis, whose 22 UFC fights since 2014 are second most of anyone in the company, gets the chance to be active and earn more money, which is his ultimate driving force.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Lewis said. “If me and Francis would’ve ended up fighting this weekend, then we would have to wait a whole year to fight Jon Jones. Now I get two fights in, two big paychecks this year and then we get to fight Jones next year.”
It may not be the matchup many expected, but Lewis vs. Gane is among the most fascinating pairings that can be made at heavyweight.
Lewis, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound behemoth, brings 12 octagon knockouts into the fight, which is tied for the most by any athlete in UFC history. His highlight reel is nothing short of devastating, and Lewis has repeatedly shown he’s capable of separating his opponents from consciousness with one shot – whether he’s leading in a fight or being utterly dominated.
He’ll likely have to pull another trick out of his bag at UFC 265, though, because he’s got a dangerous foe in front of him in Gane, who just nine fights into his MMA career finds himself on the doorstep of interim gold.
Unlike Lewis, who could only be described as a knockout artist, the 6-foot-5 Gane has proven thus far to be more of a finesse player. The Frenchman is a smart and technical fighter with tremendous conditioning, but also has finishing capabilities in the striking and grappling departments.
Gane is the one with all the upside going into the matchup, because he wasn’t even supposed to be here. He beat Alexander Volkov in a main event just 42 days prior to UFC 265, then when Ngannou became unavailable, Gane got the call.
Remarkably, Gabe’s first MMA fight happened less than four years ago. He only made his UFC debut in August 2019, so all of this is happening quickly for him.
Gane isn’t one to get caught up in the moment, though, or feel the pressure. He’s got a humble and laid back attitude, and he hopes those traits – paired with his fighting skills – lift him to interim gold at UFC 265.
“When I accepted the fight with Derrick there was no question, because if it wasn’t me, it was going to be another guy,” Gane said. “He’s one of the most dangerous guys in this division. This is a good challenge for me. I know I can do very well against him.”
UFC 265 takes place this Saturday, August 7. Watch UFC 265 online at ESPN+ here.