UFC 265 will be held in front of a packed house Saturday in Houston. This fight card is stacked with key matchups and clashes of styles featuring fighters of all sizes, shapes and countries.
Last week we lost one release to a bad weight cut, and my second release of Danny Chavez earned a majority draw decision. In this case the majority draw was like hitting the lottery because at his best, Chavez does not possess the fighting acumen to remain in the UFC. We’ll take the decision that costs us no profit and move into this week’s card, which is loaded with potential violence.
Ciryl Gane (-390) vs. Derrick Lewis (+ 330)
heavyweight (265 pounds), interim championship
Third-ranked Ciryl Gane defeated fifth-ranked Alexander Volkov last month in a five-round decision. The Frenchman controlled the pace and never experienced trouble in that bout as he displayed superior fight intelligence, deft movement, effective evasion of strikes and a full five rounds of cardio.
Gane sports a superior physique, he possesses profuse striking power and he has risen to his current ranking with only nine professional MMA bouts after an undefeated seven-fight Muay Thai career. This young man is gifted with tremendous athleticism. He moves more like a fighter well under 200 pounds as opposed to one who competes at heavyweight. While athletic and powerful, Gane is also patient in the cage, which is the sign of an experienced, cagey fighter.
Gane has displayed little wrestling in previous bouts, mostly because he has owned superior striking ability over opponents, so the caliber of Gane’s ground game is somewhat unknown. But it’s naive to believe his coaches have not been drilling grappling and wrestling into him.
Gane has the intelligence, ability, strength and athleticism to take the most efficient approach to this fight, and that may well be to fold some ground and pound from top position onto his opponent, who is known to have only mediocre takedown defense.
Besides dominating Volkov, Gane has done the same to Tanner Boser, Junior dos Santos and sixth-ranked Jair Rozenstruik. Respected MMA handicappers agree that Gane, who is versed in Muay Thai striking and kickboxing, is a legitimate heavyweight contender after just nine professional bouts in three years.
Derrick Lewis is the No. 2-ranked heavyweight contender, and he has won four in a row. He owns a victory over current champion Francis Ngannou.
Lewis possesses tremendous natural power and incredible country strength for a man his size. He’s explosive and destructive for up to 10 or 12 minutes, and he is well aware that with his size he must ration his output to make it for 25 minutes.
Lewis has been able to train more effectively these last several fights, and while he still tips the scales at 260-plus, his cardio, focus and determination have been improving. So it’s plausible he’ll be able to compete effectively in those championship rounds.
While Gane is a tactician who uses patience and intelligence, Lewis is a profuse power puncher who makes no secret of his mission to seek and destroy using forward pressure to inflict blunt-force trauma.
The contrasting styles should make for interesting viewing.
I believe Lewis will want to walk into a firefight with Gane, while Gane will be the fighter who utilizes movement, strike evasion and perhaps even a takedown to sap some of the power from Lewis, whose athleticism and explosion are not to be underestimated despite his portly physique.
Gane has more weaponry, he’s more savvy and, provided he maintains distance and exercises octagon control early, I see him having success later in the fight as the beast tires and Gane begins to inflict damage. How his fight just a month ago affects his performance remains to be seen, but some concern has been expressed that this turnaround is quick for such a young and inexperienced fighter.
One last salient fact: Lewis is from Houston, and this card is in Texas. Judging in Texas is inconsistent and questionable on its best day. Should this fight make it to a close decision, don’t be surprised by the outcome.
Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds, Under -170.
Jose Aldo (-110) vs. Pedro Munhoz (-110)
bantamweight (135 pounds), co-main event
Ex-featherweight champion Jose Aldo has found new life as a fit bantamweight. In this fight, Aldo will have size, height and experience edges to go with his 5-inch reach advantage. Aldo’s size and complete fight arsenal will present problems for Pedro Munhoz, especially early. Aldo benefits greatly by this being a three-round bout, as he has a propensity to tire as these wars unfold.
Munhoz is giving away physical advantages, but he arrives with confidence after a thorough defeat of Jimmie Rivera. Munhoz, whose strike defense is suspect, gets hit a lot because he is so willing to trade blows, yet he gains momentum and confidence as his fights wear on.
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds, Over -195.
Vicente Luque (-130) vs. Michael Chiesa (+ 110)
welterweight (170 pounds)
What a fight! Sixth-ranked Vicente Luque enters this bout with tremendous momentum. Luque has won nine of 10 fights and his last three in a row. Luque is a very well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Decorated in BJJ and Luta Livre Esportiva, Luque can fight at range, in the clinch and on the mat. Luque has finished Nico Price, Randy Brown and Tyron Woodley in his last three bouts, showing that Luque can finish opponents and that his wide array of fighting weaponry allows him plenty of latitude in determining how he will finish foes.
Since his move to welterweight, Chiesa has won four straight bouts. The move up in weight has allowed Chiesa to focus on opponents instead of cutting weight. His results have been stellar, capped by an impressive five-round unanimous decision over Neil Magny in his last bout.
Chiesa is not as well-rounded in fighting acumen as Luque. Chiesa’s size and BJJ mastery make him a dangerous foe for anyone in the division.
Chiesa will need to strike with Luque only long enough to engage him, for Chiesa’s striking is awkward, gangly and not very effective. He must find a way to drape himself over Luque using his size, the fence and deft clinch work to smother the striking attack that Luque uses so well.
On the other hand, Luque has ground ability in his own right, though he has chosen not to exercise it in his last bouts. Luque will choose to fight Chiesa at his strength, which is standing up, and must maintain distance and space to be effective.
Chiesa’s size and ability to smother opponents’ striking, then transition the fight into a grappling affair, make him a dangerous matchup for Luque.
Chiesa + 110
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds, Over -150.
Lean to the Over.