Derrick Lewis vs. Ciryl Gane headlines UFC 265 this August 7, 2021 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, United States.
One sentence summary
Phil: Derrick Lewis continues his quest to prove that all MMA technique is fake
David: Boo boo vs. (sometimes) Boom Boom
Record: Derrick Lewis 25-7-1 NC Ciryl Gane 9-0
Odds: Derrick Lewis +280 Ciryl Gane -350
History / Introduction to the fighters
Phil: The first time Derrick Lewis got a title shot it felt like a placeholder. That fight against Cormier was booked as a fun way to pass the time between Stipe fights, and played out as such. A lot of the time when this kind of thing happens, that’s the end of it. The action fighter gets their title shot and then just steadily fades away. But if Derrick Lewis has anything, it’s a bizarre ability to stick around past when you think he can, and so he’s back and riding a more convincing streak than he was the last time around. He’s arguably fighting a more cohesive style than he was, but it’s not exactly a reinvention- it’s a credit to his longevity rather than evolution, and to the eternal gamechanging benefits of BIG PUNCH.
David: Lewis’ ascent to the top of the heavyweight pyramid fits into the classic heavyweight storyline of maybe also-ran into maybe king. He’s had some bad performances, bad losses, good performances, and great wins. Interestingly, the twain have never really met. Lewis is a Boom or Bust performer. At heavyweight, that’s totally fine. Results matter more than the process, since the process can be interrupted by random acts of violence. Lewis, if nothing else, is the interruption king. He didn’t show much against Curtis Blaydes other than knockout power. Sometimes that’s all you need. Will that be enough against a plodding technician like Gane?
Phil: Gane is an absolute anomaly of a heavyweight. When Francis Ngannou burst out onto the scene it was at least in a recognizable way: a huge, gifted monster who knocked people out. Gane feels like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It begs the question: is his careful style built to feast on a division of fighters who have never seen before, or is it just something which plain doesn’t work here? Lewis seems like he can go some way to answering that question.
David: Gane’s a fascinating character even if his violence is left wanting. He fits the profile of a heavyweight champion: being more monster-slayer than monster. Like Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, and Daniel Cormier, his game is built on precision more than percussion. The big knock on him is that he’s just not all that exciting. He fights like Lyoto Machida on sleeping pills. That’s an unfair description, but it drives home the abundance of patience to his game. Will it matter in the long run? I don’t think so. Unlike Woodley, Gane’s patience isn’t driven by bad habits. He’s not like Overeem, staying patient to cover up for other forms of deficiencies.
What’s at stake?
David: I mean. If Dana is to be believed, Lewis beat Ngannou, so this fight is for the real title. Which makes dos Santos the linear champ? Who knows how middle school MMAth works. This fight means nothing in the light of Ngannou’s presence. That’s the irony to this BS drama. Both of these fighters represent unique opposing forces to the actual heavyweight champ, but because White is framing it as the actual number one spot, it’s just dumb and unnecessary.
Phil: The fight feels like it’s tarnished by the addition of a belt. If it was a pure #1 contender fight it would be a fun freakshow. As it is, it’s weighed down with all the tedious contractual obligations to have a title at the top of the card, as well as the knowledge that the whole thing is booked to make sure that Jones and Ngannou shut up and stop making waves.
Where do they want it?
David: Lewis gets a lot of flack for his ostensibly lazy style. Rightfully so. And no, I have no asterisk to add. There’s no ‘but’ to insert, or an addendum to make Lewis seem savvier than he is. Lewis is certainly more technical than he’s given credit for. He’s capable of switching up his offense, he can throw kicks, and he can mix up his offense. But a lot of his technique is, I think, his way of adjusting to what he can’t do than figuring out ways to be economic about what he can do. That takes its own IQ, and I think that’s where Lewis deserves credit. There is the economics of technique (which Gane excels at), and then there’s the economics of intuition. Which I guess makes Lewis the Alfred Marshall of fight MMA: marginal utility is the name of the game. Whatever blood capital Lewis can squeeze out of stone, he’ll try. I called his victory over Blaydes a lucky punch, making sure to distinguish a lucky punch from a lucky victory. The comment section either didn’t get it, or I simply failed to articulate what I meant, so I’ll try to clarify. I don’t think Lewis is a flawed fighter who gets by on raw ability. Although there’s an element of truth to that. I don’t think Lewis lucksacked his way to the top. Although I think there’s an element of truth to that too, since Lewis is only fighting for an interim title because Dana is a world class cheap skate. Rather, I think his casino pugilism relies on a critical gambit: a single opportunity inside a moment can be a bigger payoff than the labor required to ensure victory over the long haul. I don’t where human psychology got to the point to think being rewarded is the same as something earned, but whatever BE readers (still love you guys and gals). Like I said, Alfred Marshall. And yes, this section has been brought to you by NPR’s Cardiff Garcia.
Phil: In recent years, Lewis has genuinely become a bit more coherent as a fighter - actually fighting off takedowns rather than just toppling to the floor and hoping that his lax guard encourages the opponent to pass, so that he can free up his hips, roll to all fours and stand back up. Similarly, his generalized pace in, say, the Ivanov fight could even be characterized as round winning as he stayed out in front of the incredibly durable Bulgarian. But. Let’s go back to the beginning. “A bit” is doing some heavy lifting when we’re talking about how much his game has come together. It’s still a lot of walking around, absorbing strikes and shocking his opponents with swanging flurries. It’s still built around that same basic calculus that you called out - that Lewis is sure that at some point, he will get his opportunity to land a killshot.
David: Oh boy. This should be fun. For casual fans, Gane is not very fun, especially in proportion to his athleticism. He’s the complete opposite of Lewis: all labor, and technique from beginning to end. To fans, that looks like a contradiction. ‘Just shoot!’ they say in hockey and basketball. That’s the Gane experience for a lot of people. Honestly, that’s my experience too. Everything that makes Gane an elite contender is all there. He’s got a crisp technical jab from a sometimes shifting southpaw stance. His jab entries are quick, but deliberate. And he’s well-rounded enough to settle into an odd time signature of grappling/clinchgfighting. He has a sneaky good overhand right from the orthodox position too. Gane’s issues, to me at least, are that he takes so much care in managing distance with his stance, positioning, and handfighting - he comes across as a little uncomfortable inside the pocket. Yea, sure he knocked out JDS with an elbow in the clinch, but JDS looked completely done in by that jab. Otherwise Gane doesn’t have much head movement to speak of, and seems a little slow to react to counteroffense. It’s something that could be worth keeping an eye on given that Gane was largely fought technicians rather than opponents who could swarm him.
Phil: Fighters at heavyweight with more than one genuine technical gift have been rare, and in some ways this was what made Stipe work as a champion. Not only could he punch good, but he could also... wrestle good? Shocking! Gane has two specific gifts: distance managing footwork and a great set of range tools. These are complemented by being a tall, rangy heavyweight with surprisingly great cardio. The combination is simply unprecedented in this division, and allows him to do things which almost no-one else does like... feint? A jab and teep game is rare enough in MMA in general, but in the Big Palooka division it’s alien to the point of being comical. There are still things to watch for, obviously: his steady attritional style leaves opponents in the fight, no matter how potentially opportunistic or dangerous they are. Similarly, as you alluded to, I don’t think he loves the pocket and also tends to leap straight back out of it under pressure. No-one has really punished him for doing so, but Lewis does at least chase his opponents with ugly shifting combos. Will that be enough? Hmm.
Insight from past fights
David: There’s not a lot of historical overlap here besides dos Santos. While Lewis might have Rozenstruik’s patience, the two couldn’t be further apart in terms of technique. Same thing with Volkov for that matter. I guess Boser, a knockout ‘specialist’ comes peripherally close, but even then what are we talking about? Boser has power, and Gane neutralized it with clean feints, and entries just like every other fight. Boser’s offense was more active, however whereas Lewis likes to react with his combinations. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever have a good frame of reference for these two. It’s hard to understate just how oddly specific they are in terms of how they attack. That’s all the more reason to suspect this fight could be an all timer. I’m talking the Renzo vs. Ohara kind. Not Frye vs. Takayama. Or Travolta vs. Nuke (is it strange I never get tired of this scene?).
Phil: The Rozenstruik fight showed us one important thing, which is that Gane does not get bored or tired with his own style. Rozenstruik sat waiting for a singular opportunity to raise its head in that bout, and Gane happily tinkered away at him, building an unassailable points lead to the enjoyment of absolutely no-one else aside from himself and his own team. Lewis has beaten a big rangy volume guy in Volkov, but the plodding footspeed and defensive vulnerabilities of the Russian are simply not traits shared by Gane
David: Yea. One of them asks for Jake Paul money before the fight.
Phil: Lewis has a preternatural ability to spook people into going for takedowns on him, and Gane is a surprisingly willing takedown threat on occasion. I’m just saying, as much as I’m down for a Technical Heavyweight, it would be absolutely hilarious if Gane freaked himself out into shooting into the Blaydes uppercut or some classic Lewis ground and pound.
David: This is one of the easiest picks in recent memory, but it’s heavyweight, so even my most confident pick isn’t confident. To me it’s mathematical. Gane can fight an awful fight and still win. Lewis absolutely has to KO Gane. There’s just no other way. Lewis has to lucksack victory. Apropos of nothing, I love how autocorrect absolutely hates Gane’s first name. Ciryl Gane by Decision.
Phil: It seems a genuinely dire matchup for Lewis... as lots and lots of the fights that he’s won are! That being said, the main thing that informs so many of those wins is the opponent taking their eyes off the road for a minute, and Gane is consistent to the point of monotony. Cyril Gane by unanimous decision.