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Dana White: Francis Ngannou knew about interim belt, Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane ‘absolutely makes sense’

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UFC 249 Ferguson v Gaethje: Weigh-Ins Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou was able to defend his title in September, per his reps. But that wasn’t soon enough for the promotion, which needed to put a belt on the line for UFC 265 and chose Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane to fight for one when a deal couldn’t be reached with Ngannou.

“You knew this was coming for weeks if we didn’t get a deal done,” UFC President Dana White told UFC Arabia reporter Farah Hannoun. “This has happened a million times.”

On Tuesday, White explained what he said was the promotion’s reasoning behind an interim title fight between Lewis and Gane, which was booked just three months after Ngannou captured the undisputed belt from Stipe Miocic.

To White, the move was a consequence of needing to keep the UFC’s title schedule. The exec huffed at a statement from Ngannou’s rep that said decision was “complete shock.”

“What happens is, we run a business and we put on fights every Saturday night, and we needed to do that fight in Houston, we couldn’t get the deal done, so we did an interim title fight, which absolutely makes sense,” White said.

Earlier this year, Lewis was named by White as the next challenger to Ngannou’s title; he won a lackluster decision over the champ in their first meeting in 2018. Gane recently picked up his sixth straight UFC win.

Ngannou’s rep, Marquel Martin, fired back on social media after White attacked the CAA agent’s initial reaction of “complete shock” to the interim title booking. Martin indicated the UFC tried to strongarm the champ after being made aware of why the champ couldn’t fight until September. The agent also threatened to go public with all of their communications prior to the decision.

Ngannou also expressed his frustration to the decision, saying the UFC didn’t respond to his request to book him an interim title fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik before a trilogy between Miocic and Daniel Cormier was completed.

Asked whether booking Ngannou for UFC 266 on September 25 was ever considered as an alternative to booking an interim title fight at UFC 265, White repeated that the UFC needed the title fight and didn’t provide any more details. UFC 265 is co-headlined by a bantamweight title fight between two-division champ Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena.

White’s scheduling explanation falls in line with his explanation when negotiations with other fighters have gone south. After he said former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would challenge the winner of Miocic vs. Ngannou 2, he named Lewis as the No. 1 contender as Jones vented over his pay for the fight. Jones, he said, would decide whether or not he wanted to fight again, but the promotion would favor fighters that said yes to the fights that were offered under the contracts they previously had negotiated.