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Making the Grade: UFC 265: Lewis vs. Gane edition

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UFC 265: Lewis v Gane Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

An undefeated record with six consecutive wins in the UFC still wasn’t quite enough for Ciryl Gane to graduate from prospect to contender but that all changed on Saturday night.

The French heavyweight put on a dominant performance before stopping Derrick Lewis in the third round to claim the interim UFC title and set up an eventual showdown with his former teammate Francis Ngannou.

In his last two fights against Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Gane won comfortable decisions but heavyweights are rarely afforded the luxury of winning five-round fights without absorbing some kind of criticism for not getting the finish. Fair or not, Gane had to dispel the notion that he was playing it safe and winning decisions rather than going out and eviscerating his competition.

Well, Gane answered those questions rather emphatically with his third-round TKO stoppage against Lewis and now he owns a piece — albeit a controversial slice —of the UFC heavyweight title.

In the co-main event, Jose Aldo looked better than ever as he boxed up Pedro Munhoz over three rounds to win a unanimous decision, his second in a row at bantamweight.

Fighters like Aldo, who are getting older and dropping down a weight class, aren’t supposed to be improving at the rate he’s been improving but that’s exactly what’s happening. Aldo has now positioned himself for a marquee fight at bantamweight with the possibility of another title shot maybe just one more win away.

With that said, there’s a lot to unpack from UFC 265 so let’s take a look at what passed and what failed from Saturday night’s pay-per-view event. This is Making the Grade for UFC 265: Lewis vs. Gane.

PASSES

Gane, Baby Gane

It’s wild to think that Ciryl Gane joined the UFC roster with just three fights on his record and now just over two years later, he’s holding an interim heavyweight title.

Now we can all question the legitimacy of that belt — more on that later — but none of that is Gane’s fault.

All he did was put himself into position to potentially challenge for the title and then answer the call when the UFC desperately needed to boost the August pay-per-view with a title fight.

Gane then put on his best performance to date while picking apart one of the scariest heavyweights on the planet and making Derrick Lewis look like a rank amateur by comparison, which is ridiculous considering “The Black Beast” has more than double the fights in the UFC than the new interim champion has in his entire career.

Gane was smart and tactical with his game plan to stick on the outside and refuse to engage in a brawl with Lewis, which is where he typically feasts on his opposition. After chopping away at Lewis’ legs, and negating him as a threat while backed up against the cage, Gane went in for the kill.

Gane held nothing back in the closing sequence after realizing that Lewis was compromised and not recovering, which proves he’s got plenty of finishing instincts when the opportunity arises. He may not have finished his last two opponents prior to Saturday night but Gane obviously didn’t see the same openings in those fights as he did against Lewis at UFC 265.

That shows real maturity for a fighter who just transitioned to mixed martial arts a little over three years ago.

With the win, Gane set him up for a showdown against Francis Ngannou at some point in the future.

Does that necessarily mean Gane is truly the best heavyweight in the world next to Ngannou? That certainly remains to be seen but it’s impossible to deny that he’s put himself in the best possible position to find out.

The Ageless Wonder

When Jose Aldo made the decision to drop down from featherweight to bantamweight, most people expected to see an emaciated version of a once great champion attempting to reinvent himself when the sand in the hourglass was supposed to be running out.

He proved that wrong with his debut at 135 pounds where Aldo took Marlon Moraes to a razor-close split decision that he lost yet that actually earned him a title shot in his next fight. While Aldo looked good early in his battle against Petr Yan to crown a new bantamweight champion, the Brazilian eventually faded and suffered a fifth-round TKO loss.

At that point, Aldo seemed like he was reaching the end of wick that’s been blazing inside of him since first becoming a professional fighter back in 2004.

Rather than burn out and fade away, Aldo made some necessary changes in his training camp including a new boxing regimen to sharpen up his hands. He came back with a fight against Marlon Vera that was supposed to crown “Chito” as the next big thing after he stopped Sean O’Malley in his previous performance.

Rather than seeing “Chito” advance to become a threat to the bantamweight title, Aldo was masterful in victory as he ultimately secured a unanimous decision win while proving more than a few people wrong along the way. Then came Saturday night when Aldo was matched up with the ultra-tough Pedro Munhoz, who is probably best described as the ultimate gatekeeper to the top five rankings.

Now that’s not meant to be an insult but rather a compliment because Munhoz is more than capable of facing and beating just about any bantamweight on the UFC roster but a win over “The Young Punisher” usually means title contention for his opponent.

Over three rounds, Aldo looked crisp with his combinations including a stiff jab that was snapping Munhoz’s head back repeatedly. Aldo occasionally unleashed his vicious leg kicks, which were a staple of his run through the featherweight division but now he’s showcasing even faster and more dangerous hands than his talented feet.

It was arguably one of Aldo’s best performances in his entire UFC career and it proved that he’s cemented himself as one of the all-time greats of the sport.

At 34, Aldo’s age is somewhat deceptive because based on all of his tremendous battles, it would seem like he’s actually much closer to 40 but neither number really matters based on how he’s been looking lately.

It’s not crazy to think Aldo could be one more win away from another title shot and it’s impossible to know right now how he’d fare in a rematch with Yan or a possible fight against Aljamain Sterling but there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain — no one should count him out.

Beat Me If You Can, Survive If I Let You

Finishes don’t come easy at the highest levels of mixed martial arts, which is why Vicente Luque’s insane rate of putting his opponents away is such a staggering statistic.

In 14 UFC wins, Luque has finished 13 opponents with only one decision victory along the way. During his current four-fight win streak, Luque has knocked out Niko Price and Randy Brown before submitting former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and then doing the same to Michael Chiesa at UFC 265.

While Luque has always been a notable finisher, he’s now a legitimate threat to the welterweight title and that has to be recognized.

There have been plenty of highlight reel knockouts or jaw-dropping submission over the years but once fighters get to the upper echelon of any division, those finishes get harder and harder to come by. The fact that Luque is still putting people away at such an alarming rate while ranked amongst the best welterweights in the world is almost unbelievable.

With this latest win, Luque has put himself into position for a marquee fight that could potentially earn him a title shot. He’ll never fight his close friend Gilbert Burns so that eliminates one possibility but imagine Luque going toe-to-toe with somebody like Jorge Masvidal or perhaps a rematch with Leon Edwards after they first met over four years ago.

Luque has always been must-see TV because whenever he fights, chances are there’s going to be an exciting outcome. Now Luque might bring that same kind of violence to the best welterweights in the world and it will be fascinating to see how any of those fights play out.

FAIL

Pride Comes Before the Fall

When Francis Ngannou became UFC heavyweight champion back in March, it signaled the start of a new era in the division after the human highlight reel and arguably one of the most marketable fighters on the entire roster claimed his first title.

As soon as Ngannou won the belt, rumors started swirling about an eventual showdown with former light heavyweight king Jon Jones, who had already declared his intentions to move up a division. Thanks to Jones’ long reign at 205 pounds coupled with his reputation as possibly the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, a fight against Ngannou at heavyweight seemed like a promoter’s dream come true.

Unfortunately, the UFC couldn’t come to terms with Jones on a deal to make the fight with Ngannou happen so they moved onto a different matchup instead.

This time, the UFC targeted Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis in a rematch after their first meeting was utterly forgettable.

The two heavyweight behemoths spent more time staring at each other than throwing punches but when it was over, Lewis was declared the victor and that set up an easy storyline to lead into the rematch with Ngannou. Except one problem ­— Ngannou was asking to fight in September but the UFC had a void to fill for the pay-per-view card in August.

So rather than just eating a loss on a bad PPV event, the UFC booked Lewis against Gane in a fight with an interim heavyweight title up for grabs that made sense to absolutely no one.

Now after all of that, Gane is holding a piece of the heavyweight title and he’s on a collision course against Ngannou, who is also his former training partner and teammate.

UFC president Dana White said you couldn’t script a better heavyweight title fight except for one problem — you absolutely could.

Ngannou vs. Jones was the fight to make and it’s always been the fight to make but somehow the UFC’s very public disagreement with the former light heavyweight champion has prevented the matchup from actually coming together. If Jones was unavailable, Ngannou facing off with Lewis in a rematch between two of the most devastating power punchers in UFC history also made a lot of sense and that didn’t happen either.

And let’s not forget the odd man out in all of this — Stipe Miocic, who happens to be the longest reigning UFC heavyweight champion in history with a win over Ngannou in their first meeting.

It’s mindboggling how the UFC could botch things so badly in the heavyweight division when it appeared Ngannou was destined for several massive fights in a row to defend his title.

None of this is Gane’s fault obviously but it’s just hard to fathom how the UFC went from a pair of titanic showdowns featuring Ngannou against the GOAT in Jon Jones or possibly the only other fighter on the roster who can match his power in Lewis to a heavyweight title unification bout after “The Predator” just became champion four months ago.

EPIC FAIL

So You Wanna Be a Fighter?

As part of the opening for UFC 265, an interview with Dana White was played over images of Francis Ngannou that said “if you don’t want to fight no problem. You can wait and fly around the world and on vacation, whatever you’re doing, knock yourself out. When you’re ready, we’re here.”

The narrative being presented to the audience was that Ngannou wasn’t interested in fighting so in his place stepped Gane and Lewis with an interim title on the line in his absence.

The reality is that couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.

Following his win over Miocic back in March, Ngannou traveled home to Cameroon to spend time with his family while rightfully celebrating becoming UFC heavyweight champion. After returning to the United States, Ngannou told the UFC he would be ready to fight again in September but the promotion had a spot to fill in August and a one-month delay was unacceptable.

So immediately after that happened, White and the UFC started painting a picture that Ngannou didn’t want to fight and that’s why an interim title was being introduced. Never mind the fact that Ngannou had just won the title four months earlier and there are numerous other champions on the roster who fought prior to him who still haven’t competed since — he was the only one who suddenly wasn’t interested in fighting.

Why does this happen so often in the UFC?

White has said the same over and over again about a long list of athletes on his roster but it’s beginning to get easier to see through the story the public is being sold on why certain fights are happening.

The UFC has a contractual obligation for a certain number of events and PPV’s through their massive seven-year deal with ESPN so it’s understandable that there are cards to fill and main events that need to be booked. That said, it’s incomprehensible how planning on the UFC’s part is so poor that Ngannou is being made to look like the bad guy after he just became champion in late March.

Why isn’t White ripping Jan Blachowicz for “ducking” a fight considering he last defended his light heavyweight title a few weeks before Ngannou became a champion? Where is the vitriol for Alexander Volkanovski, who hasn’t defended his featherweight title since July 2020?

It’s because neither of them were needed to headline an August PPV when the UFC was desperately trying to book a main event with a sellable fight.

Ngannou is getting tossed under the bus for no other reason than he wasn’t going to be available until a month after the UFC wanted him to compete and for that it’s being made to look like he was somehow avoiding a fight.

The reality is there’s no need to tear down Ngannou in order to build up Gane vs. Lewis and that same “if you don’t want to fight” story is getting rather tiresome.

Overall Grade for UFC 265: A-