Look, no amount of trash talk or made-up titles is going to make us forget that the UFC has failed to deliver on the glorious possibility of a megafight between Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones. Dana White has talked down expectations for that matchup, but the horse was out of the barn when Ngannou fulfilled his destiny by toppling Stipe Miocic and Jones continued to make it a habit of posting workout videos that tracked his progress up from 205 pounds.
Money talks, but in this situation, their apparently still isn’t enough of it to convince White that that dream fight should be made.
So we ended with Lewis and Gane headlining UFC 265 for an interim heavyweight championship that nobody believes needs to exist (please, don’t start on how much more the guys are getting paid for a title fight. If the UFC wants to pay fighters more, it doesn’t have to add belts to a fight to do it). Two top heavyweights headlining a strong card that’s just lacking the kind of marquee matchup that should have fans scrambling to make that pay-per-view purchase.
On the bright side, the UFC could have a real moment here if Lewis can win a shiny belt in his hometown of Houston. Just imagine Tops Drop blasting through the Toyota Center as Lewis tosses a championship over his shoulder while saying, “What kind of belt is this? It can’t even keep my drawers up” or some such musing.
Or we could see Gane continue his absurd ascent from can’t-miss heavyweight prospect to UFC titleholder. The affable Frenchman didn’t turn pro in MMA until late 2018 and now he’s gone from winning championships in Canada to competing for the same status once held by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Shane Carwin. Not to mention a seemingly inevitable clash with Ngannou, his former teammate.
In other main card action, the legendary Jose Aldo fights Pedro Munhoz in a surefire bantamweight banger, welterweight contenders Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque compete to get one step closer to a title shot, strawweights Tecia Torres and Angela Hill meet in a rematch, and bantamweights Song Yadong and Casey Kenney look to rebound from losses.
What: UFC 265
Where: Toyota Center in Houston.
When: Saturday, Aug. 7. The four-fight early prelims begin on ESPN2 and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET. A four-fight preliminary card follows at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN+. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available to watch through ESPN+.
Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane
Alexa, play Fat Pat.
On paper, this is the ideal matchup for Ciryl Gane to continue his win streak. He’s one of the most athletic and coordinated athletes in all of MMA, he’s a superior technical striker to Derrick Lewis, and—despite what his recent results have shown—he’s as potent a finisher as any of the big boys in the UFC.
So why am I picking Lewis?
I think there comes a point where you can be too fundamentally sound, if that makes sense. Gane’s measured striking might be too much for Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, but those were MMA bouts. This is going to be a fight. Lewis is not going to cooperate and engage in a classy sparring match, at least not for a whole 25 minutes. At some point, he’s going to let “The Black Beast” out and Gane has never dealt with anything like that before.
It doesn’t matter how prepared Gane is for Lewis’ swangin’ and bangin’ style. Once those ham-hock fists start flying, it’s chaos, and this will be a test of Gane’s composure and maturity as much as his actual ability. Let’s see how he reacts to eating one of Lewis’ power shots in the championship rounds. As much as Gane’s recent main event experience will help him, it’s still going to be a whole new world when he meets late-game Lewis.
So Lewis by knockout it is, even if it feels like Gane has him beat in a number of categories. There’s no accounting for ka-razy though and that’s the version of Lewis I expect to pop up at some point on Saturday night, much to the delight of the crowd.
Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz
Going with my gut on this one and picking Jose Aldo.
It might be surprising to hear that Aldo and Pedro Munhoz are almost the exact same age at 34, with Aldo actually being two days younger than Munhoz. Aldo is about five years older in fight years though, so I understand why one might lean towards his slightly less shopworn opponent.
With every Aldo appearance, there’s concerns about he’ll fare in a prolonged fight as his conditioning fades, but he’s looked good in all three of his appearances at 135 pounds even if two of them didn’t go his way. Can Munhoz push the fight to a pace that Aldo can’t keep up with?
This is going to be an absolute striker’s delight and as I mentioned, I can’t make a strong case for either fighter outside of a gut feeling. In my nostalgia-tinted eyes, Aldo is still this indomitable force and his mixed results over the past few years has done nothing to change that. He still has stretches where he’s as fast as ever and he remains extraordinarily difficult to put away. This is guaranteed to be a three-round classic and could result in Munhoz’s fourth Fight of the Night in five fights.
Aldo by decision, I guess.
Vicente Luque vs. Michael Chiesa
Vicente Luque isn’t afraid of grappling with Michael Chiesa, but that remains Chiesa’s best path to victory.
Chiesa won’t shy away from a scrap on the feet, which is great for the fans, and with his relentless cardio he can certainly threaten Luque in a striking battle. Wrestling is his bread-and-butter though and you can expect him to shoot early and often to stifle any chance of Luque getting his dangerous striking game going. That said, Luque can threaten with a number of submissions, which is one reason that this such a fun matchup.
For me, this pick comes down to whether you think Luque and Chiesa go the distance or if you see one of them scoring a finish. I’m going with the former scenario, in which I favor Chiesa to be able to score timely takedowns and rough Luque up enough on the ground to tilt the scores in his favor. Outside of that, there should be plenty of heated exchanges on the feet that are too close to call.
We have another Fight of the Night candidate on our hands here, folks, one that I’m picking Chiesa to win.
Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill
Tecia Torres and Angela Hill’s first fight was in 2015, a lifetime ago in sports, so how much could have possibly changed in that time?
At a glance, Hill has advanced more all around, which isn’t surprising given that Torres was the more established name when the two met at UFC 188. Hill was in just her third pro fight, while Torres had already made a name for herself in Invicta FC with wins over future UFC champion Rose Namajunas, Paige VanZant, and Felice Herrig.
Experience has made Hill one of the strawweight division’s most entertaining and resilient fighters and if this stays on the feet, I like her chances. That’s a big if though given how the first fight went. However, Hill’s takedown defense has improved a ton and Torres will be unpleasantly surprised if she expects to grind out a second win over Hill.
Maybe I’m underestimating the steady and reliable approach of Torres, especially since she’s coming off of a couple of dominant wins herself. But I feel that Hill has just grown so much, even in her narrow losses to Michelle Waterson and Claudia Gadelha, and she’s due for a win over vet.
Hill by decision.
Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney
Have I mentioned how difficult of a main card this is to pick?
I love this matchup for both guys. Song Yadong ran into a more skilled Kyler Phillips in his most recent outing and Casey Kenney fell short against Dominick Cruz, one of the greatest fighters of all time. Those were quintessential “win or learn” situations and I bet that Kenney learned more from his competitive fight with Cruz.
Even if that’s not the case, I favor Kenney here. He’s been a step ahead of his fellow prospects for some time with his cardio and excellent grappling base. As his striking has come along, so has the talk of him being a future UFC title challenger. There’s still time for Song to get there too, but I don’t see him consistently catching Kenney with his power punches.
Push comes to shove, Kenney can put Song on his back too, and it’s this dual threat that gives Kenney the edge. Song has to land something big to put Kenney down, while Kenney just has to stay the course and outwork Song for three rounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kenney is able to snag a submission either.