TGIFighting: Lewis vs. Gane at UFC 265 Is the Title Fight No One Wanted

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterAugust 6, 2021

Derrick Lewis
Derrick LewisChris Unger/Getty Images

In this potential post-Conor McGregor world in which we live, Jon Jones (26-1 [1 NC]) moving up to heavyweight to challenge star-destroyer champ Francis Ngannou (16-3) could easily have been the biggest fight of the second half of 2021.

Even UFC prez Dana White said he liked it and wanted to make it—a pretty obvious stance given its clear crossover appeal, with Jones still the MMA GOAT in many eyes and Ngannou being able to punch through the engine block of a long-bed pickup truck.

Derrick Lewis
Derrick LewisChris Unger/Getty Images

Then it fell apart. And not only that, but it did so following a familiar script, with squabbles over money and timing leaking into the public consciousness and then sinking the ship. In my opinion, that's less about dollars and cents than it is about UFC brass not wanting to publicly capitulate to anyone for anything, but that's an argument for another day. 

Through no fault of their own, then, Saturday's UFC 265 main event between Derrick Lewis (25-7 [1 NC]) and Cyril Gane (9-0) is a dollar-store version of the mega-fight we had all hoped to see. When they square off in Houston's Toyota Center it's for the interim heavyweight gold, but it's still a pale imitation of the original blueprint, which would have been for Ngannou's lineal title.

The ever-popular Lewis, fighting in front of his hometown crowd, is a significant +280 underdog (bet $100 to win $280) as of Thursday morning, according to DraftKings. With his back problems purportedly behind him and coming off maybe the best win he's ever had in a second-round knockout of Curtis Blaydes (14-3 [1 NC]), no one has more of a proverbial puncher's chance than Lewis, who—with apologies to Ngannou—may well be the hardest hitter on the UFC roster.

Still, Lewis hasn't shown out in the biggest spots, including a 2018 second-round submission loss to Daniel Cormier (22-3 [1 NC]) in his only other title bout to date. And, of course, there was that all-time stinker with Ngannou, also in 2018, which was an extended stalemate that went to Lewis on little more than a coin flip. You're happy for Lewis for getting another title shot, but it's impossible not to recognize his place here for exactly what it is: a contingency plan.

The Frenchman Gane is even more of a head-scratcher, at least to a significant portion of the MMA fanbase. But let's be fair and give Gane his due as well, as he's the betting favorite here for a reason. Part of the explanation behind his anonymity to fans is his meteoric rise through the ranks, happening in six fights over less than two years—so fast it outstripped the promotion's ability to give him a proper introduction before it could press him into service on the biggest stage.

Cyril Gane (right)
Cyril Gane (right)Handout/Getty Images

Make no mistake, though: Gane is really good. Despite his newness to the sport—he was working in a furniture store when he decided to pursue professional fighting—he has a fight IQ that belies his years. His technical, defensive, range-oriented style stands in sharp contrast to the classic head-hunting mold of many of his heavyweight contemporaries, Lewis included.

And now let's bottom-line this: this is not a high-octane fighter. And the boring tag is going to stick with Gane until it doesn't anymore. Although he lands a crisp 5.13 strikes per minute, per UFC Stats, his goal is to outscore, not outslug, his opponent.  

You have a classic irresistible force-immovable object kind of situation here, and it's not without its intrigue. It's actually an interesting fight, but it's being overshadowed through no fault of the fighters involved. This is an outstanding card topper for an ESPN broadcast or other Fight Night event. But as it stands, no sober judgment out there could conclude this is anything other than a letdown after another UFC dream unfulfilled.


Does Bellator Have a New GOAT?

After A.J. McKee (18-0) dominated Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (23-5) last Saturday at Bellator 263 to win Freire's featherweight title and the $1 million Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix, who would you nominate for the GOAT title if not McKee? 

It's more than just the win that does it. He choked out Freire with a standing guillotine in less than two minutes. This is the same Freire who hadn't lost in nearly five years and is still the promotion's lightweight champ despite the loss. McKee baited Freire into thinking he was kicking to the body, then he went upstairs with a head kick that put Freire on dream street.

A.J. McKee chokes out Patricio Freire
A.J. McKee chokes out Patricio FreireJayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

It was a thing of beauty, and it's the kind of thing you just don't see fighters do to Freire. McKee's killer instinct was evident not just in this fight but in the three fights he won to reach the final, none of which went the distance (only one lasted past the first round). 

Let's go through the great Bellator fighters and see who might be a challenger to the all-time throne. Michael Chandler (22-6)? He lost to Freire. The clear choice was Freire until McKee happened. Who else would you put in there? Eddie Alvarez (30-8 [2 NC])? He lost to Chandler, though he did have an outstanding 9-1 run there that included two stints as lightweight champ.

It's a weighty crown to lay on the head of the 26-year-old McKee. But the cocksure Californian, who recently called himself "the Floyd Mayweather of MMA," is up to the moniker, both inside the cage and out. And I, for one, can't wait for his next chance to prove he's equal to the ever-increasing hype.

Jose Aldo (right)
Jose Aldo (right)Handout/Getty Images

Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week

Jose Aldo was left for dead a while back following a three-fight losing streak from 2019 to 2020. A move down to bantamweight seemed desperate and doomed.

But even at age 34, the wily ex-champ appears to have plenty left in the tank after all. That losing streak has aged as well as it could, with two of the losses coming to current or recent champs in Petr Yan (15-2) and Alex Volkanovski (22-1). A decision win over a tough customer in Marlon Vera (17-7-1) put him back on the right side of the ledger.

Here's guessing he'll get it done Saturday, where he's a close -120 favorite (bet $120 to win $100) to get it done against Pedro Munhoz (29-7), a good fighter who has nevertheless never gotten over the hump. Mainly a grappler, Munhoz won't be able to crack Aldo's fortress-like defenses, making this a standup battle. Aldo can win that. Lock it in.