The UFC made an announcement on Monday that surprised many, announcing that August 7’s UFC 265 will be headlined by a fight for the interim heavyweight championship between Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane, first reported by Brett Okamoto.
Derrick Lewis (@Thebeast_ufc) will face Ciryl Gane (@ciryl_gane) in an interim heavyweight title fight in the main event of UFC 265 on Aug. 7 in Houston, per Dana White (@danawhite). pic.twitter.com/wy3frMtyjJ
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) June 28, 2021
Announcement Shakes Up Heavyweight Division
The announcement came as a surprise to many since new heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou only just won the belt on March 27, just 3 months and 1 day before the announcement came of an interim belt. According to Okamoto, the reason for the UFC scheduling an interim belt fight was due to Ngannou being unable to defend in either June or August due to scheduling conflicts.
Ariel Helwani reported that after Ngannou told the UFC he couldn’t fight on August 7, he accepted a September 25 fight against Lewis, but the UFC ended up opting to give Lewis an interim title fight against Gane on August 7 instead.
UFC hoped to book Francis Ngannou x Derrick Lewis 2 for Aug. 7 but that is currently looking like a long shot at this point, sources say. Scheduling conflicts.
Nothing finalized at the moment but September is now a new target, I’m told.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 23, 2021
While Lewis and Ngannou’s first meeting in 2018 was widely regarded as one of the most disappointing fights, as both fighters have admitted, their upcoming rematch, this time for the heavyweight title, has been highly anticipated. Both fighters are considered to be among the scariest knockout punchers ever seen within the UFC octagon.
The surprise by this announcement is due to how quick the UFC was to create an interim title fight. Typically interim title fights are made when champions are unable to defend their title for long periods of time. As stated, Ngannou only first won the heavyweight title on March 27, 2021, making this by no means a long stretch without defending.
Many fans have pointed to the last heavyweight champion’s reign and questioned why this time is different. Stipe Miocic won the heavyweight championship in 2016 and went on to become the most successful UFC heavyweight champion of all time, breaking the record for most heavyweight title defenses. Since 2018, Miocic has fought just once per year, fighting only one time in 2019, 2020, and 2021 (so far). Many fans have questioned why Miocic was allowed to hold the belt for periods of a year without an interim belt being needed while Ngannou was only allowed 3 months. In fact, there was a wave of fans arguing that Ngannou’s fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 249 in May 2020 should have been for the interim heavyweight championship, given that Miocic hadn’t defended since August 2019 at the time.
The Truth (My Opinion):
When you step back and evaluate things, this decision is stupid, but it’s easy to figure out why they decided to go down this path. To put it simply, the UFC was going to stop at nothing to get Derrick Lewis on this card. Given that UFC 265 is taking place at the Toyota Center in Houston, the UFC was set to do whatever they could to feature the star Houston native Lewis on this card. Given that UFC President, Dana White, has stated recently that Lewis is next in line to fight for the heavyweight title, it wouldn’t make sense to have Lewis fight for anything other than the title. However, since Ngannou was unable to, they had to go create their own path. With the heavyweight division’s hottest prospect, Ciryl Gane, coming off a win this past weekend, they decided to throw this fight together for the interim belt in Lewis’ hometown.
Fans have also questioned whether or not this indicated the UFC’s lack of faith in Amanda Nunes as a PPV headliner. Nunes, who is widely regarded as the greatest female MMA fighter of all time and a current UFC double-champion, is currently slated to fight Julianna Peña. However, the UFC has always loved stacking multiple title fights into PPV cards.
In my opinion, this is pretty clear that the UFC didn’t think Amanda Nunes could draw enough on her own to sell a suitable amount of PPVs. So, they made up a reason to get Derrick Lewis onto the card, which will allow him to be the hometown star. While it may not make Ngannou happy, at the end of the day it won’t really matter, as many fans have already stated that they aren’t taking this interim title fight seriously. If anything, it just pushes Ngannou’s first title defense back further.
Sometimes, the UFC’s decision-making just doesn’t make much sense. This is a time where it makes sense when you look at what they are trying to do from a PPV selling perspective, but it’s just hard to justify.