Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will crown an interim heavyweight titleholder when top contenders Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane go to war in the UFC 265 pay-per-view (PPV) main event, a colossal clash that was expected to be anchored by the women’s bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena.
Unfortunately “Lioness” was stricken with coronavirus, so Jose Aldo will assume co-headlining duties against bantamweight banger Pedro Munhoz, while Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque help sort through some of the promotion’s welterweight clutter. In addition, Angela Hill and Tecia Torres settle their score at 115 pounds.
The action takes place this Sat. night (Aug. 7) at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Before we break down tomorrow night’s (interim) championship action, go ahead and take a look at what MMA whiz kid Patrick Stumberg had to say about the ESPN2 and ESPN+ “Prelims” contests here and here. The latest UFC 265 odds and a complete betting guide for all the “Lewis vs. Gane” action can be located here.
Let’s talk titles.
265 lbs.: Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis (25-7) vs. Ciryl “Bon Gamin” Gane (9-0)
Derrick Lewis was able to blast his way to No. 2 in the heavyweight division and remains the only fighter other than Stipe Miocic to hold a UFC victory over reigning 265-pound champion Francis Ngannou, though I think we’re all in agreement that the less we say about that three-round snoozer, the better. Lewis, 36, has some impressive knockout victories inside the Octagon, racking up highlight-reel finishes over the likes of Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov, two fighters still lurking in the Top 5. But it’s also worth mentioning that Lewis has some equally impressive knockout losses, going down in flames to Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt. I guess that’s part of the Texan’s appeal, because outside of the occasional stinker, “The Black Beast” lives and dies on his sword.
We haven’t seen that yet from Ciryl Gane which is probably why the UFC front office is not promoting him with any vigor. There’s no question “Bon Gamin” is a talented heavyweight with a well-rounded skill set, but he’s got the personality of a traffic cone and today’s combat sports landscape requires as much mouth as it does might. Ngannou is just as soft-spoken and genteel as his fellow French import but his fists do the talking for him, which is why “The Predator” has 10 violent knockouts since joining the promotion in Dec. 2015. It’s kind of a shame that Ngannou is constantly at odds with UFC President Dana White, though it did help Ciryl Gane get fast-tracked to a division title shot. In fact, the interim heavyweight title was only created as a big “fuck you” to Ngannou, who expects to return in October, but you can also argue that we wouldn’t have a UFC 265 main event without it.
Lewis can be reckless and often times sloppy, but one thing he isn’t? Stupid. As we’ve seen in previous fights, like the victory over Curtis Blaydes, “The Black Beast” isn’t just winging eyes-shut haymakers. A gameplan exists and Lewis punches accordingly. That said, it appears that every punch is thrown just below the shit-your-pants level, which is like hitting with an aluminum bat: even a glancing blow can put one in the seats. That will be on the mind of Gane but it’s unlikely to rattle him. Partly because he’s undefeated, confident, and doesn’t know what it feels like to have his head lopped off in front of an arena full of Just Bleeding Texans, but mostly because “Bon Gamin” is a skilled fighter who understands that winning and mistakes rarely go hand-in-hand.
Now for the bad news: If Gane is going to stare at Lewis for five rounds, Lewis is going to stare right back. That’s why I have very low expectations for this heavyweight headliner. Gane is going to stick-and-move, exploit weaknesses in his opponent’s takedown defense, and circle the cage until the easily-heated “Black Beast” hard boils his nuts. Lewis will counter early and often but at age 36 with a questionable back, he’ll be one punch behind his 31 year-old foe.
Prediction: Gane def. Lewis by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Jose “Junior” Aldo (29-7) vs. Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (19-5, 1 NC)
Former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo quickly discovered that competing at bantamweight is about more than just hitting the 135-pound limit without dying. You also have to perform, though we should temper our criticism because “Junior” jumped right into the deep end for high-level showdowns against Marlon Moraes and Petr Yan. To his credit, we saw flashes of brilliance from the 34 year-old Brazilian in each contest but I also think it’s become clear that Aldo is done with title contention and will simply keep the gate, or serve as a launching pad for younger, more dynamic fighters. Fortunately, I don’t think Pedro Munhoz fits into that category and at age 34, he may want to reconsider calling himself the “Young Punisher” — or the “young” anything, for that matter.
Munhoz had a sensational run from 2016-2019, going 7-1 with five finishes. That includes his knockout victory over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 235, though I’m not sure how well that victory holds up after watching the gradual decline of “No Love.” More impressive was his submission win over Rob Font, who is now sitting in the No. 4 spot at 135 pounds. Subsequent losses to Aljamain Sterling and Frankie Edgar sent Munhoz to the back of the line but the Brazilian managed to rebound nicely in his rematch against former wunderkind Jimmie Rivera. In addition to having a well-rounded offense, sporting five knockouts and eight submissions in 19 wins, Munhoz is also one of the more durable bantamweights in the division, with all five losses coming by way of decision. Expect that to be a factor in this fight, as well.
It’s hard to not be nostalgic for the Aldo of yesteryear and sometimes we get him, but as the bouts drag on we continue to see “the old Aldo” — but not in the flattering way we previously meant it. I’m also not sure why “Junior” starts off with punishing leg kicks and then inexplicably stops, even when they’re working. I believe Aldo is comfortable at bantamweight, I just didn’t see enough in the Marlon Vera victory to convince me he can be a major player at 135 pounds. Munhoz has been here longer and done more damage against better opponents, so expect him to weather an early storm, then take over as Aldo begins to fade in the second half of the fight.
Prediction: Munhoz def. Aldo by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Michael “Maverick” Chiesa (18-4) vs. Vicente “Silent Assassin” Luque (20-7-1)
Hard to believe it's been three years since Michael Chiesa and Kevin Lee were arguing about “Maverick’s” mother in yet another example of how words can, in fact, always hurt you. That was part of a dreadful time in Chiesa’s career when he was on The Machinist diet to make the lightweight limit, reflected in submission losses to Lee and Anthony Pettis. What followed was a long overdue jump to welterweight and four consecutive victories. Maybe you can give Chiesa the “yeah, but” argument after two wins ... but four? I think he’s proved himself as a legitimate threat at 170 pounds. Now it’s time for “Maverick” to also prove he’s a bona fide title contender against another notorious “tough out.”
Vicente Luque is one of those rare fighters who actually did better in UFC than he did on the regional circuit. A lot of guys clean house in the minors where the competition is “meh” then graduate to the biggies and suddenly find themselves surrounded by sharks. Luque is 13-3 as a UFC welterweight but is still ranked below Chiesa at No. 6, likely due to his Nov. 2019 loss to Stephen Thompson. Getting outpointed by “Wonderboy” was just the second time the Brazilian went to the scorecards in his last 10 fights and Luque sports a ridiculous 18 finishes in 20 wins. I know the UFC hype machine is replaying his Tyron Woodley submission to get folks amped for this fight, but for my money his finish over Randy Brown was more impressive, especially when you consider how far Woodley has fallen over the last three years.
Chiesa is still huge, even at welterweight, giving him an advantage in most of his physical exchanges. “Maverick” has racked up 19 takedowns across his last four fights and you can expect more of the same this weekend in Houston. Luque’s takedown defense is not great (65%) and one of the reasons he was easily dispatched by Leon Edwards and Michael Graves. Working in his favor is the fact that Chiesa has zero knockouts in 22 professional fights, so there’s really nothing to fear when it comes time to stand and bang. You can never rule out a sneaky submission from “The Silent Assassin” but I just think the new-look Chiesa is too dialed in — and too cautious — to make the kind of mistake needed for Luque to capitalize. Get ready for WrestleMania, too.
Prediction: Chiesa def. Luque by unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Angela “Overkill” Hill (13-9) vs. Tecia “Tiny Tornado” Torres (12-5)
Angela Hill has been campaigning for another crack at Tecia Torres because she believes the judges robbed her when they first went to war at UFC 188. While even “Overkill” would admit her Claudia Gadelha loss stands as the bigger injustice, it’s worth pointing out that Hill only scored one 10-9 during the entire fight and that was from judge Sal D’Amato. In addition, not a single media outlet had Hill as the winner, which may explain why it took the promotion over six years to book this strawweight rematch. The fact that both fighters are still around after that long is a testament to their grit and perhaps a reflection of the available talent at 115 pounds. Either way, both combatants sit just outside the Top 10 heading into this weekend’s action.
Hill has carved out a reputation for being a female version of Donald Cerrone, at least in terms of activity, racking up a staggering 19 fights since late 2015. Also like “Cowboy,” Hill has struggled to stay consistent, hovering just above the .500 mark at 11-8. “Overkill” graduated The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 as little more than a flashy Muay Thai striker but in the years that followed, Hill has fleshed out her offense and become a solid fighter in just about every department. I can’t say the same for Torres, who was a talented striker with an impressive karate background, because she looked the same in 2020 as she did in 2015, unloading a paint-by-numbers offense while getting taken down by superior wrestlers. The end result is mediocre 6-5 record since outpointing Hill.
Torres is still just 31 and did a nice job of recovering from a dreadful four-fight losing streak, capturing consecutive victories over Brianna Van Buren and Sam Hughes, the latter of which ended by way of technical knockout. I know those names don’t mean anything since neither Van Buren nor Hughes are ranked in the Top 15, but there won’t be any champagne and roses for Hill’s recent decision win over the 8-8 Ashley Yoder. If “Overkill” is content to lumber forward and try to match strikes with Torres, I don’t see any reason why this second fight will end differently than their first go-round. If Hill makes it ugly, mixes up her attacks, and closes the distance, I think she can shut down her opponent’s offense and cruise to a decision. Flip a coin folks, this one’s a pick ‘em.
Prediction: Hill def. Torres by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Casey Kenney (16-3-1) vs. Song “Kung Fu Monkey” Yadong (16-5-1, 1 NC)
Casey Kenny migrated from LFA in March 2019 and quickly established himself as a threat at 135 pounds, winning five of his first six fights inside the Octagon while erasing the memory of his disappointing loss on Dana White’s “Contender Series” in summer 2017. Kenney is looking to rebound from a split-decision loss to Dominick Cruz at UFC 259 back in March and despite judge Mike Bell’s score of 29-28 in favor of the Arizonian, most pundits agree “The Dominator” was in control for most of that fight. Unfortunately for Kenney, losing to Cruz in 2021 is far more damaging than it was a few years back, because the ex-champ is (unjustly) no longer ranked in the Top 10 after consecutive losses to Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo. But yeah, let’s rank Darren Till in the Top 10 at middleweight because his memes are funny.
Song Yadong blasted his way into UFC after an impressive run on the international circuit, which came at a time when the promotion was building its performance center in Shanghai. In the last three years, the “Kung Fu Monkey” has quietly put together a 5-1-1 record, including his first UFC defeat at the hands of Kyler Phillips last March. Working in favor of the Chinese import is the fact that he’s just 23 years old and already has 23 professional fights. I would imagine training at Team Alpha Male will help Yadong realize his potential over the next few years but he’ll need a good showing this weekend in “The Lone Star State.” Most fans fell in love with his knockout wins over Felipe Arantes and Alejandro Perez but technically speaking, his Marlon Vera victory showed the most promise as it demonstrated his ability to succeed without the big punch.
Both fighters boast a similar height and reach, though Kenney will be the first southpaw Yadong has faced under the UFC banner, which could be a factor if this fight plays out primarily on the feet. One thing that concerns me is that Yadong has been taken down 10 times over his last three fights, one of which ended in a draw and the other a loss. Kenney has shown his own vulnerabilities when it comes to wrestling but I believe the “Kung Fu Monkey” has the bigger hole to exploit. There have been a lot of complaints about this card — most of them deserved — but there are a few contenders for “Fight of the Night” in this weekend’s lineup, including Yadong vs. Kenney. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the PPV action, regardless of who wins.
Prediction: Kenney def. Yadong by unanimous decision
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 265 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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