Who needs a hometown advantage? Despite venturing deep into enemy territory, Ciryl Gane defeated Derrick Lewis in a rout at UFC 265, knocking out the Houston fan favorite with a furious barrage of strikes late in the third round to capture the UFC interim heavyweight title and cement the next title shot against UFC champion Francis Ngannou. What mattered most from a busy Saturday night? Let’s hit our five biggest takeaways from UFC 265.
1. Still Tippin’
Consider that timeline for a moment. Really take a second and consider what it means.
All of this? This road of peerlessness and perfection that’s led Gane to the interim title he captured at UFC 265? It’s taken just three years from start to finish. Truly, Gane has matured from a mountain of a raw potential into one of the best heavyweights in the world in front of our eyes. And now it’s fair to wonder just how good he really is, because over the last seven months, Gane had made a trio of frightfully dangerous men — Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alexander Volkov, and Derrick Lewis — look like they barely even belong in the same sport as him. It’s a been remarkable ride — and it’s really just getting started.
Gane was exceptional once again on Saturday night. As we’ve come to expect, his third-round knockout of Lewis was as close to a flawless victory as MMA gets from a bout that could be considered a slow burn. The punch stats alone are absurd: Gane out-landed Lewis by a margin of 112 strikes to just 16. He connected at a staggering 80 percent clip in terms of significant strikes. He chopped down the giant of H-Town with ease — somewhat implausibly, all 32 of his leg strikes found their mark — and broke the one heavyweight whose entire reputation is centered around the idea that he’s never out of a fight, no matter how bad or lopsided it may get.
Gane may not carry the cartoonish punching power of UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, but there aren’t many heavyweights alive who move with his fluidity or approach the sport with his same level of finesse. Gane had “The Black Beast” lost in the sauce from the opening bell. It was a masterclass in footwork, accuracy, and distance management from an athlete who already competes like he’s a 15-year veteran of the game. Lewis’ tried-and-tested strategy of just biding his time and waiting for the right moment to pounce, upon which he built a legitimately great UFC career, never stood a chance.
The heavyweight division now has its marquee fight: Ngannou vs. Gane is so well set up that it will be borderline criminal if the UFC fails to pull a big number for it.
The first title fight between two true heavyweights of this new era. Preternatural power vs. preternatural technique. Former teammates and training partners, two men whose journeys started together as nobodies off the streets of Paris under the same coach — Fernand Lopez — only for Ngannou to exit the team on relatively messy terms at the precipice of his stardom while Gane stayed behind and continued to carry the gym’s flag. Now the former understudy is poised to exact vengeance on the man who left he and his head coach behind? This is a Hollywood script. It sells itself. And that’s without delving into the fact that Gane may be the toughest heavyweight in the world to manufacture offense against, and Ngannou may be the toughest man in the whole dang sport to avoid in an enclosed cage.
In a weird way, Gane did the impossible at UFC 265: He became the first person since March to inspire any sort of real doubt around the reign of Ngannou. When I threw out a simple call for early predictions for their fight on Twitter last night, I was stunned to see an overwhelming response favoring Gane to beat Ngannou. He’s already the betting favorite on at least one sportsbook. That would’ve felt like a pipe dream just a few weeks ago.
I can’t say I agree with those odds, but one thing is certain: With Ngannou vs. Gane up next, and Jon Jones looming in the background for 2022, the heavyweight division is poised for one hell of a run.
Now let’s just get Ngannou vs. Gane booked as the first UFC event to ever be held in Paris and really make some magic.
2. The forever king
Jose Aldo is on Year 17. Think about what we just saw on Saturday night then revisit that number again. Aldo has been fighting professionally for 17 long years, almost all of it against only the very top echelon of top-tier fighters in the world, split across two different divisions which prioritize speed and fast-twitch reactions above all other traits — and he’s still manhandling contenders like it’s going out of style. That’s incredible. And it deserves to be celebrated, because Aldo was once again brilliant at UFC 265.
The legend swept the judges’ scorecards with a dominant decision over Pedro Munhoz and even set a new personal best: Aldo’s 114 significant strikes he landed on Munhoz were a record for his Zuffa career. That’s right: Of 26 combined WEC and UFC appearances, including 15 potential five-round fights, Aldo has never busted up anyone with the frequency he busted up Munhoz. This from a man who’s been written off more times than he could count, and who every time has figured out the key to evolving and reinventing himself all over again.
Even the staunchest Aldo believer has to be stunned this bantamweight experiment has worked out as well as it has. Aldo was always an athlete who dragged himself through the depths of hell on fight week to be able to make the featherweight limit. If he ever changed divisions, it was supposed to be up to lightweight, not 135 freakin’ pounds. When he announced his intentions of doing just that in late 2019, it sounded like the worst kind of reactionary decision. But Aldo was right. His speed, his accuracy, his defense, his thudding kicks, his hellacious body work — everything worked on Saturday night, just as it did against the perennially underrated Marlon Vera and just as it did in the early going against Petr Yan.
After so many years and so many wars, it genuinely doesn’t make sense how Aldo could still be this sharp, especially against foes lighter and sprier than those in the division he long called home. He is forever one of the all-time greats.
3. The definition of consistency
It’s honestly ridiculous at this point. If you lined up 100 diehard MMA fans and asked them to name the most violent welterweight on the UFC roster, there’s an exceedingly low chance that Vicente Luque’s name would come up more than a handful of times, at best. But the truth? All those other answers would simply be wrong.
As Urijah Faber likes to say: Check the record, bud. Luque is 14-2 with 13 stoppages over his last 16 UFC fights. If he wins a fight, it’s the closest thing to guaranteed ultraviolence as exists in the modern day welterweight division. Luque’s only losses over that stretch? Leon Edwards and Stephen Thompson. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousands times, we’re looking at one of the most underrated fighters in the game. In an alternate timeline where cordiality and concussions are what catch eyes over Twitter antics, Vicente Luque is already a superstar. Because how could anyone possibly watch this man fight and deny him?
At age 29, Luque is already nestled behind Matt Brown for the second-most finishes in UFC welterweight history. And the way he and UFC matchmakers have plotted out his latest run couldn’t be more perfect. After Luque’s previous six-fight win streak ended at the hands of Stephen Thompson in late 2019, he was given a few lower-tier welterweights to style on — Niko Price, Randy Brown, and a late-career Tyron Woodley — before returning back to murderer’s row. The UFC rarely affords contenders the chance to regain their momentum and build themselves back up against lesser opposition after a tough loss, but there’s a reason boxers often fall back on the old tactic of a tune-up fight or two. It works.
That’s exactly the road that Luque took and now he’s back among the elite, brimming full of confidence and a more exciting contender than he’s ever been. Saturday was the best win of his MMA career, and like always, there was no shortage of dramatics — Luque snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with his first-round D’arce choke of Michael Chiesa with a quickness that defied belief. Even a beast of a grappler like Chiesa was dumbstruck.
I’ve been calling for Luque to get the respect he deserves for years now. At this point, that’s not even really necessary anymore. The UFC knows. The welterweights know. The fans know. And I’ll be stunned if he’s anything more than one win away from getting his much deserved shot at the UFC title held by his old ex-teammate, Kamaru Usman.
4. Test passed
I know gatekeeper is a dirty word for athletes in combat sports, but it exists for a reason and often isn’t even meant as a slight. By definition, a gatekeeper to the elite is a still a damn good fighter. And Bobby Green? He’s pretty much the most perfect gatekeeper to the elite that the lightweight division has. If you’re not good enough to run with the wolves at the top of 155 pounds, Green is going to expose you, probably in somewhat humiliating fashion, and he’s going to let you hear about it the whole way through.
So it goes without saying that whenever you get Green matched against a blue-chip prospect like Rafael Fiziev, it’s appointment viewing — and my goodness, did these two deliver. Saturday’s preliminary card headliner was the epitome of a high-level brawl. I would’ve paid $5 on the spot for an extra two rounds between these lunatics. Fiziev and Green combined for a staggering 486 strikes attempts in their three-round sprint, and though Fiziev faded late, that’s nothing to be ashamed of against a pressure-monger like Green.
Fiziev has all the makings of a genuine intrigue at 155 pounds. His four-fight UFC win streak is tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the division, his swarming offense makes for breathtaking scraps — and is tailor-made for the internet highlight reel — and his ability to gut out a hard-fought win over Green certainly bodes well for his UFC future. Not only that, but he’s a genuine delight of a personality — the perfect combination of eccentric and confident. The man loves blacksmithing “cold steel arms” in his spare time and called out Hasbulla in his post-fight interview, for God’s sake. How can you not love it?
There aren’t going to be many ranked lightweights jumping to risk their spot against the 28-year-old, but the prospect of Fiziev getting the chance to test himself against someone on the periphery of contention like a Diego Ferreira or a Brad Riddell has to excite hardcore fight fans. God bless this UFC lightweight division, the land of madmen and monsters.
(By the way, the 30-27 Fiziev scorecard turned in by local Texas judge Joshua Ferraro is going to be forgotten by Monday morning because, hey, the right fighter won. But good lord, that’s one of the worst scorecards we’ll see in all of August. I’d love Ferraro to sit down and explain to us how Green didn’t win a Round 3 that saw him land almost all of the impactful blows, totally steal away any sense of momentum, and ultimately out-strike Fiziev by 23 strikes. Wouldn’t that be nice? It’s not as if this a high bar we’re asking judges to clear here — someone who’d never watched a single second of MMA action in their life could’ve scored that round right. But I suppose Texas is just going to Texas.)
5. Better late than never
It may have taken a lot longer than expected, but UFC fans finally got a taste of why so much excitement surrounded the signing of Manel Kape in March 2020. Kape’s first promotional victory on Saturday night’s preliminary card was a gorgeous sight — in one fluid motion, the 27-year-old up-and-comer switched stances then leapt into a monstrous flying knee that signaled the beginning of the end for Ode Osbourne.
To suggest that Kape had a disappointing start to his UFC career would be an understatement. “Starboy” was a certified demon during his RIZIN reign, an engine of offensive explosion whose diverse and dynamic arsenal carried him to the RIZIN bantamweight title off a trio of knockouts over Seiichiro Ito, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kai Asakura. (The latter of whom, in case Japanese MMA is a bit of a blind spot of yours, is a very good win; Asakura finished Kyoji Horiguchi in just 61 seconds a few years ago.)
Yet you would’ve been excused heading into UFC 265 had you wondered why exactly the hardcore fan base stumbled over themselves to pile into the Kape bangwagon. His skill set just hadn’t translated to the octagon. Kape’s debut against Alexandre Pantoja was nothing to write home about, and his follow-up effort against Matheus Nicolau was even more of a letdown — even if all 22 of the media scores on MMADecisions.com agreed that Kape was robbed at UFC Vegas 21, the reality is that Kape’s performance was still lackluster and his job was likely on the line at UFC 265.
At the very least, that’s no longer the case.
Kape’s win was still marred by a three-pound miss on the scale — and it’s probably not the best look for him to demand a top-5 ranking while sporting a 1-2 octagon record after badly missing weight — so UFC 265 certainly wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Portuguese-Angolan fighter. But Kape is a viable player now in a relatively thin division. Plenty of UFC contenders have gotten off to slow starts on the big stage only to come on strong once they found their sea legs. It wouldn’t surprise me if we’re soon saying the same about Kape.
Whose performance stood out most to you at UFC 265?
This poll is closed
Ciryl Gane def. Derrick Lewis
Jose Aldo def. Pedro Munhoz
Vicente Luque def. Michael Chiesa
Rafael Fiziev def. Bobby Green
Manel Kape def. Ode Osbourne
Other (explain in comments)