UFC 265: Gane smashes Lewis to become France's first ever UFC champion
Josh McNally

A major factor in the UFC's meteoric success has been the company's deftness when creating storylines. Using the opaque ranking system as a basis, the UFC brass matchmake with the best fighters always in mind, but always with a keen eye towards personalities too and those are developed via social media, the "UFC Embedded" documentary series and event commentary.

Sometimes, however, the invisible hand of Endeavour Group Holdings Inc. pulls too hard and suddenly the audience can see the strings.

It was barely four-and-a-half months ago that Francis Ngannou starched Stipe Miocic to become UFC heavyweight champion. Ngannou, who had been on a tear, announced himself as the baddest man on the planet with that win and immediately all eyes turned to the dream bout of him defending the strap against Jon Jones in the latter's divisional debut.

And then Jones pulled out, saying negotiations broke down because they weren't paying enough. Low fighter pay is a hot button issue in the UFC right now and, without a union, his decision not to fight is the only action he could take.

Many thought this was just an excuse – and that may well be true – but then things got interesting as Ngannou agreed and he used his position as champion to raise awareness for how the fighter pay structure works and how necessary a fighters' union is.

Ciryl Gane hits Derrick Lewis with an uppercut. /Zuffa

Ciryl Gane hits Derrick Lewis with an uppercut. /Zuffa

Within days of this, the UFC announced the upcoming Ciryl Gane vs. Derrick Lewis fight would take place at UFC 265 and it would crown an interim heavyweight champion. Typically interim belts come into existence when the champion is injured. Ngannou has a clean bill of health.

To make the situation even more obvious, UFC President Dana White, who has often criticized boxing for having four major world champions for every division, claimed this interim belt was to make the eventual Ngannou defense more exciting. "It's like the IBF vs. WBC champion," he said, even though that's a concept the UFC has steadfastly been against within MMA – the most famous example is turning down a potential co-promotion with M-1 Global to make a superfight between Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar.

The final nail in the coffin came in the opening hype video for UFC 265. Footage of Ngannou wearing a fancy suit was overlaid with audio of White talking about how Ngannou "doesn't want to fight." That's long been Dana's go-to line for when a fighter isn't caving to his demands and the stakes of the UFC 265 main event now became clear: this may officially be the interim belt, but to the boss, it's real.

That's how the fighter's treated it too. Derrick Lewis, nicknamed The Black Beast, is a fan favorite and was clearly spurred on by his hometown support in Houston, Texas. He's a limited fighter with an excellent resume, built entirely with the two nuclear bombs on his wrists that he calls hands.

That one-punch knockout power terrifies everybody and Ciyrl Gane, a Muay Thai specialist and former undefeated champion in that sport, knew he had to maintain his distance to prevent getting put to sleep.

Ciryl Gane sets up a left punch against a turtling Derrick Lewis. /Zuffa]

Ciryl Gane sets up a left punch against a turtling Derrick Lewis. /Zuffa]

In the opening round, he darted in and out, peppering Lewis with leg kicks and gradually working his way to the upper body. This worked as both offense and defense. According to, Gane landed all 15 of his leg kicks and 11 out of 20 to the head and body combined; Lewis landed only three strikes of an attempted 11 in total.

The story continued in the second round, only now Gane started utilizing his clinch against the cage meaning he was alternating between too far and too close for Lewis to hit him with a haymaker. Without that option, Lewis had nothing and landed only two more strikes than in the first round while Gane muscled him around the Octagon.

By the third, Lewis was visibly struggling and Gane's tactic had gone from simply chipping away at the heavier man – his tactic in the Alexander Volkov fight – to using two or three lighter attacks to set up a blockbuster of his own. He rocked Lewis once each round previously; in this frame he rocked him – and kept on going.

Referee Dan Miragliotta gave Lewis every chance. He turtled up and Gane went for the kill. The main criticism he has faced in UFC is that he's a point fighter; what many forget is that he's a rookie with only nine professional MMA bouts under his belt.

In his 10th, he got a TKO win over #2 ranked Derrick Lewis and won a world championship without breaking a sweat. The Wizard of Oz can now safely go back behind his curtain because no tinkering is needed: fate demands Gane faces Ngannou next.

[Header: Ciryl Gane wearing the interim UFC heavyweight championship belt following his win over Derrick Lewis in the main event of UFC 265 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, August 8, 2021. /Zuffa]

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