Francis Ngannou captured the heavyweight title by smashing Stipe Miocic in the UFC 260 headliner back in March, but before “The Predator” could even make a single title defense, the promotion went and created an interim strap for top contenders Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis.
The decision felt a little hasty at the time it was announced, especially when compared to some of the past delays among UFC champions, but it turns out the deal was already in place. In fact, Gane was tipped off prior to his Alexander Volkov fight at UFC Vegas 30 in late June.
“Before the fight we knew that,” Gane told MMA Fighting. “The UFC sent a message to [my coach] Fernand Lopez and he told me, ‘My man, do your job tonight and after this fight, you’re gonna have some good news.’ When we arrived in France on Monday, we got a message from the UFC about that fight for August. We knew about it, but if you don’t have the contract, it’s not official, but when we knew about that, I stayed very focused against Volkov because we had to win that fight to have the chance for the title shot. So I was really focused and we did it.”
Ngannou turned down a proposed title defense for June and then again for August, but was willing to commit to a return by September. Not an ideal situation, but both Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier had longer breaks between title defenses during their respective reigns as champions.
And yet no interim strap.
To no one’s surprise, the news went over like a lead balloon for Team Ngannou, probably because they already had a combustible relationship with UFC President Dana White. It will be interesting to see how quickly the winner of Gane vs. Lewis will be scheduled to face “The Predator” later this year.