It has been less than five months since Francis Ngannou dethroned Stipe Miocic to become the UFC heavyweight champion. Yet, with Ngannou returning to spend time in his native Cameroon, the UFC moves forward with an interim title fight this weekend at UFC 265. Donning the marquee of the Toyota Center will be Houston’s own Derrick Lewis and Frenchman Ciryl Gane.
Lewis already holds the record for most knockouts in the UFC heavyweight division and will be looking to extend his lead. Gane has not only been perfect since joining the UFC roster, he is yet to be defeated and holds an unblemished 9-0 record since becoming a professional mixed martial artist.
Former featherweight champion Jose Aldo takes on Pedro Munhoz in a bantamweight co-main event. Aldo notched his first victory since moving down to bantamweight in his last fight when he defeated Marlon Vera by unanimous decision. He had started off his tenure at 135 pounds with two consecutive losses. Munhoz also recently snapped a losing streak, defeating Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision in a “Fight of the Night” performance in February.
Top-10 welterweights collide on the main card with Michael Chiesa squaring off against Vicente Luque. Chiesa has not lost since making the move up to welterweight, sporting a 4-0 record. Luque is riding a three-fight winning streak of his own, none more impressive than his stoppage of former champion Tyron Woodley.
Rounding out the main card is a showdown between ranked strawweights Tecia Torres and Angela Hill and a bantamweight bout that pits Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney.
UFC 265, which will be held in front of a capacity crowd, kicks off with the early prelims on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET. The televised prelims follow on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. The action culminates with the five-fight main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the fights in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
The interim championship is on the line in the main event; which fighter earns a shot at a title unification belt with current champion Francis Ngannou?
Sumian: The heavyweight showdown involving Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane will be the ultimate battle between power and technicality. The winner will earn a shot at the biggest payday of their career in a unification bout with the champion.
Lewis is the embodiment of Goliath if there ever was one. The seven-year UFC veteran has a plethora of experience in the Octagon. The majority of his victories have ended in devastating knockout. The Houston native has compiled an impressive 16-5 record during his time with the promotion. Twelve of those wins came by way of knockout. There is no secret in Derrick Lewis’s game plan: find an opening and throw the hardest punch possible.
While he has found success in utilizing this strategy many times over, Lewis lacks a polished striking background and a foundational ground game to truly be successful as a long-term UFC champion. But hr certainly has the capability of putting the lights out of any opponent that dares stand in front of him. Currently riding a four-fight winning streak and on track for a rematch with the champion Ngannou, Lewis is merely two fights away from achieving the greatest prize in heavyweight mixed martial arts.
In many ways, Gane represents a fighter who is the complete opposite of Lewis. The France native is entering the prime of his career after rattling off nine straight wins. The undefeated heavyweight sensation has taken the UFC heavyweight division by storm by defeating the likes of Tanner Boser, Junior dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov. Gane is undoubtedly one of the most composed, calculated and polished strikers in the UFC today.
Gane utilizes patience and movement to quickly deduce his opponent’s movements before finding an opening to land devastating kicks, punches, knees or elbows. He aims to gradually break his opponent’s guard down before unleashing fight-ending shots. This makes him one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the UFC today.
As with all fights that involve Lewis, the outcome of this bout generally has two possible endings. Lewis will either pull off another quick first- or second-round knockout, or Gane will gradually attack the body and legs of Lewis before ending the bout with a flurry or ground and pound in the later rounds.
Despite Lewis continuously being able to prove me wrong, Gane will be crowned the interim UFC heavyweight champion. The Frenchman is still fairly green in his UFC career, but his maturity and improvements have been evident in every one of his UFC appearances. Gane takes this by third-round TKO and becomes the next star in the making.
Petela: Regardless of the outcome, this fight will leave champion Francis Ngannou with a very unique challenge to unify the belts. Either he has a rematch of one of the worst heavyweight fights in UFC history or he takes on a former training and sparring partner in Ciryl Gane.
From a technical standpoint, the advantage lies with the former Muay Thai kickboxer-turned-UFC standout Gane. The French fighter has looked nearly invincible since joining the promotion, adding six wins in which he has not faced much adversity.
The only criticism of Gane has been that he tends to fight in a risk-averse fashion, keeping his opponents at bay with an effective jab and push kicks. Expect him to use the same tactics early and often against the always dangerous Lewis. For the first few rounds, he will be firmly in control of the fight and leave the “Black Beast” feeling somewhere between perplexed and frustrated.
As always, even a battered Lewis is a dangerous opponent and he will put together another one of his signature come-from-behind victories in the championship rounds. All it takes is for Gane to zig when he should have zagged, and the fight will be over in the blink of an eye. By the fourth and fifth rounds, even the most technical fighters have momentary lapses due to fatigue. Expect Lewis to capitalize on a minor mistake by Gane, find himself in range and deliver a right hand that earns him the victory and an interim title. This weekend, Lewis will do what Lewis does and pick up another knockout victory.
The main card includes a pair of bantamweight fights, Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz and Yadong Song vs. Casey Kenney; which of these four fighters makes the biggest statement in victory?
Petela: Casey Kenney.
He came up short via split decision in his last fight against Dominick Cruz, but Kenney looked impressive sharing the cage with the former champion. He has a perfect chance to rebound this weekend against Song.
Song is a highly talented fighter with a style that is fan-friendly. He has racked up three “Performance of the Night” bonuses as well as a “Fight of the Night” bonus. This fight will be full of entertaining scrambles and extended striking exchanges. Look for Kenney to get the better of Song most times when they engage.
A decisive victory against an opponent is exactly what Kenney needs to bounce back from the loss to Cruz. This will remind the MMA universe that he is on the verge of becoming a major player in the talent-rich bantamweight division.
Sumian: Jose Aldo.
Despite one of the most lengthy and prolific careers in MMA history, Aldo is only 34 years old. Time after time, he proven his ability to compete with the best in any division. “The King of Rio” meets an extremely dangerous opponent in Munhoz whose ability to stand and bang is quickly becoming legendary. However, it will be Aldo who shines on Saturday night when he uses his reach advantage and impeccable jab to comfortably dismantle Munhoz for three straight rounds.
Aldo will not finish Munhoz, but his ability to dictate the pace using his jab and kicks will be a game changer in this bout as Munhoz struggles to get close and provide any form of effective offense. The Brazilian is still competing at a very high level and although a title shot is no longer a realistic possibility, numerous memorable performances are yet to come.
Melissa Gatto — do we need to know this name?
Sumian: I am generally very bullish when it comes to UFC debuts and will continue to be so going into Saturday night. Gatto boasts a 6-0-2 record with four of those wins coming by way of submission. The Brazil native makes her UFC flyweight debut against Victoria Leonardo who has compiled an 8-3 record with all three losses coming by way of finish.
Leonardo tends to put herself in harm’s way to get wins, which has generally been favorable for her. But it has also led to three defeats via finish. Gatto will continue her streak on Saturday night with a successful armbar victory over Leonardo and officially announce her arrival to the UFC.
Petela: Gatto looks like she will finally get back to action after a bizarre string of four straight fights that have been cancelled for a variety of reasons. This will be a flyweight fight though Gatto has previously fought as a bantamweight. Regardless of the division, Gatto will have a nice run over the next several years inside the UFC.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 265?
Petela: Derrick Lewis. This may just be for an interim title, but this will be the biggest win of the his career. He will not only become the first man to defeat Ciryl Gane, but he will do it in emphatic fashion as only the “Black Beast” can. He will do it in front of a raucous hometown Houston crowd.
Sumian: The winner of Vicente Luque versus Michael Chiesa. The welterweight division needs new contenders and quickly. Kamaru Usman has cleared out the top five of the division in impressive fashion and the winner of this bout will be in the title mix.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 265?
Sumian: Francis Ngannou. An interim title bout robs Ngannou of the ability to utilize the momentum he built by defeating Miocic. The spotlight will be on one of the gentlemen involved in the main event. Ngannou needs to get back in there quickly and prove to the world he is undoubtedly the best heavyweight in the world.
Petela: Jose Aldo. The former featherweight champion will come up short this weekend against Pedro Munhoz and drop his record in his last five fights to just 1-4. A loss this weekend will effectively remove his name from consideration among the top-tier talent in the bantamweight division. He will still have star power in Brazil, but this will be his last fight with serious implications in the title picture.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The Polish strawweight has gone 2-5 since challenging her countrywoman Joanna Jędrzejczyk for the strawweight title and has lost four consecutive fights. Her last victory came in 2018. If she doesn’t pick up a win here it is almost a certainty that she will have fought for the last time inside the UFC.
Sumian: Vince Morales. The Idaho native has gone 1-3 in his UFC career and has failed to impress in any fashion. A third consecutive loss will send Morales packing.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Bobby Green versus Rafael Fiziev. These two will put on an absolute show and are headlining the preliminary card for good reason. Expect a FOTN candidate when these two talented strikers meet in the center of the Octagon and trade for as long as this fight lasts.
Petela: Alonzo Menifield and Ed Herman. Menifield bounced back nicely in his last fight, picking up a submission win after dropping consecutive fights. He has finished all 10 of his professional wins and Ed Herman has gone the distance just five times in his 26 victories. These two will get after it and it would be a major surprise if this fight goes the distance.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Rafael Fiziev. He has won post-fight bonuses in his last two fights and this weekend he will make it three straight. The heavy-handed Kazak fighter has an opponent who won’t shy away from a slugfest in Bobby Green and these two men will deliver fireworks. Fiziev picks up a knockout that will have the fans in Houston leaping out of their seats.
Sumian: Manel Kape. The Angola native has had a rough going since joining the UFC but has all the potential in the world to become a talented flyweight contender. He will finish Ode’ Osborne via knockout and earn himself his first UFC victory.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Some Texas barbeque and French onion soup in honor of the main event. Both of these heavyweights have been nothing less than exciting in their UFC careers. Thus, what better way to enjoy the fights than to gorge in the native food of each fighter!
Petela: Nothing messy. The main event won’t be very exciting, until the moment it makes you leap out of your seat. So make sure that you aren’t in the middle of chowing down on something gooey at the moment Derrick Lewis uncorks a right hand that ends the fight instantly.
Main Card (Pay-Per-View, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Interim Championship: Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane
BW: Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz
WW: Michael Chiesa vs. Vicente Luque
StrawW: Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill
BW: Yadong Song vs. Casey Kenney
Preliminary Card (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Bobby Green vs. Rafael Fiziev
BW: Vince Morales vs. Draco Rodriguez
LHW: Alonzo Menifield vs. Ed Herman
StrawW: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Jessica Penne
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
FlyW: Manel Kape vs. Ode’ Osbourne
BW: Miles Johns vs. Anderson Dos Santos
Women’s FlyW: Victoria Leonardo vs. Melissa Gatto
BW: Johnny Munoz vs. Jamey Simmons
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