UFC 265 was a fight card of answers. Not all of those answers may have been the most fun to receive – especially not for Derrick Lewis – but they were fairly strong and definitive at every step of the way. Ciryl Gane is a bonafide title contender, Jose Aldo’s still got it, and Vicente Luque has a Kamaru Usman fight at the front of his mind.
So, with Gane saying he’d like to take a few months off, does the UFC put together another interim title bout? Is Jose Aldo putting himself back in contention for a shot at the bantamweight belt? And who can stop Sanford MMA from stacking the deck at the top of the welterweight division?
To answer those questions – and quite a bit more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.
This was exactly the fight Gane had set himself up to have, with his precise and safety-first victories over Volkov and Rozenstruik. He had already faced powerful hitters and more technical athletes on his way to this title shot, and handled them with ease. As long as he stuck to his guns, Lewis shouldn’t have presented any newer or more difficult problems. That made for a somewhat academic finale to the PPV card, but at least it ended in a finish for the Frenchman—something that’s been missing from his rise to title contention. All to set him up for a battle with former teammate Francis Ngannou.
It’ll be an interesting fight, considering the much more patient, technical approach Ngannou took against Miocic—as well as Ngannou’s crushing power in clinch & pocket exchanges. Will the ‘Predator’ show more insistence than Lewis did (or than he did against Lewis)? Can he land the kind of shots at range that would force Gane to change tactics? What did their sparring sessions look like? The footage out there shows a pretty active back & forth dynamic, but with Gane landing with more consistency and accuracy. If he’s confident he can handle Ngannou in that kind of fight, that could easily be what we see in the cage. Gane vs. Ngannou is the fight on deck, as long as all parties are willing and patient enough to put it together.
It has to be wondered just what the plan was for Lewis, considering that this was so clearly the matchup he was going to have to face—with all the difficulties inherent in trying to find gaps in a style like Gane’s. Whatever he’d intended, however, it didn’t work. Lewis looked totally unprepared for the steady diet of low kicks, push kicks, and jabs coming his way. And once Gane started causing real damage with those strikes, his ability to even just hang in the bout deteriorated rapidly. Whether that puts him far out of title contention or not will be all about his ability to continue mopping up other HWs in the top 10 (as well as Gane’s success – or lack thereof – against Ngannou).
My first reaction would be to say book Lewis against Miocic. Two fighters coming off of title fight losses, a big-name battle of talents that could easily headline any fight night card. It seems like a natural fit. But, White has already tabbed Miocic for a future title shot and his past willingness to sit and wait suggests he probably won’t be taking random bouts to kill time. The other must-see booking is a match-up against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who would also have a big technical edge over Lewis, but is much more flat footed and willing to trade than Gane. Unfortunately Rozenstruik is fighting Curtis Blaydes. Considering Lewis is coming off a loss, however, it feels like Rozenstruik vs. Lewis is the fight to make—no matter how ‘Bigi Boy’ does next time out.
There may still be bad matchups out there for Aldo, especially fighters that can build momentum over multiple rounds and/or force him to have to wrestle and grapple for good stretches of time. But, Munhoz has always been a more of a fighter who sets a tempo and then sticks to it. Aldo was able to match that speed all the way through, even to the extent that he absolutely tuned Munhoz up in the third—just to remind everyone that he’s still one of MMA’s most technical talents. Sure he could fight Rob Font or TJ Dillashaw, or even Corey Sandhagen. But there’s really only one fight I want to see him take right now, and that’s against Dominick Cruz. Two men who were at the top of the world in separate divisions years ago, suddenly meeting for a meaningful fight in 2021? It feels like too good an opportunity to let go to waste. Aldo vs. Cruz is one of those random ‘superfights’ we never got when it would have been a truly big deal, no reason to let it fall by the wayside when we have the chance to do it now.
The common theory was that if Michael Chiesa could get Luque to the ground he’d have a much much clearer path to victory. And for a few moments, at least, that read seemed to be correct. Chiesa got Luque to the mat, quickly took his back, and slapped on a brutal neck crank. But Luque fought his way through it and wound up on top in the scramble. As Chiesa looked to chase him down and reassert position, he gave up his neck and the D’arce was wrapped around it in the blink of an eye. A fantastic sub win for Luque that might have him set for a title shot if the division didn’t seem to be so backed up.
There’s still a shot that title contention works out for him; Burns only just recently lost his bout for gold, Edwards seems like he’s the last person the UFC wants to reward, and Luque is a thrillingly violent finisher. Personally, I’d love to see Luque fight Gilbert Burns to clear up this picture a little. But, considering how close the two men seem to be, that’s probably not gonna happen. I guess that makes it time to book Leon Edwards vs. Vicente Luque 2. It’s been 4 years since their first fight, let’s see if the dynamic has changed at all. Luque vs. Edwards 2 seems like the best fight Luque could get right now. And if Edwards isn’t up for that, then Luque vs. Masvidal would be a violent (if not highly meaningful) scrap.
Unfortunately for Angela Hill, it took two full rounds for her to get in gear and it took two full rounds for Torres to lose a gear. At that point it was pretty competitive battle, but for the 10 minutes leading up to the third round, the ‘Tiny Tornado’ was a big step ahead of ‘Overkill’ in every exchange. Her constant barrage of body kicks early set the tone, whereby Hill couldn’t afford to bank on her size and range. And after that point it became a test of will to see how many shots the Alliance MMA fighter could walk through to get inside.
Torres’ third straight victory after that miserable four fight losing streak, and she’s battled her way back toward the edges of title contention again. That could set Torres up for bouts against Mackenzie Dern, Yan Xiaonan, or Claudia Gadelha. I’m gonna go ahead and say the winner/loser bout against Yan Xiaonan is the right fight to make. Xiaonan’s still got a strong spot in the rankings, but she also has a lot to prove after getting waxed by Carla Esparza. A fight against Torres is a great chance to prove she’s still a contender, and a great chance to give Torres the path to contention she’s looking for. Torres vs. Xiaonan to see which woman can make her case to be a top contender once again.
A tightly contested fight from Yadong, but a great performance overall. Kenney put the Team Alpha Male fighter on the back foot for most of the fight, but still found himself getting out-landed on the counter. Yadong showed off great body kicks and great hooks as he turned the corner out of the pocket. And that second piece is an especially high quality look from a fighter who has often seemed to operate just a little too linearly moving in and out of the pocket. After the victory, Yadong should be primed for another borderline top 15 style matchup. Until he starts really showing a different level than his peers it’s hard to see rushing him forward into the top 10. But fights with Ricky Simon, Raphael Assuncao, or Merab Dvalishvili would all be great ideas. However, Sean O’Malley is coming off a showy win over something of a gimmie matchup. How about throwing him at another top quality test to see if he’s all he presents himself to be. Sean O’Malley vs. Song Yadong would be an absolutely thrilling test of speed and skill between highly touted prospects at 135 lbs.
There’s no way I can see scoring the third round for Fiziev. Not only was he handily outlanded by Green, but he was also clearly in significantly more danger of getting finished. His cardio seemed to have deserted him and Green was rallying hard to put him away all round. Fiziev did well to stay composed, keep landing shots, and to see the final bell, but giving him the 10-9 is a travesty. That said, he won the fight, and the Tiger Muay Thai striking coach is in line for another step forward toward the top of the lightweight division. Green is the kind of fighter that separates the elite from the rest of the pack, and Fiziev is looking more and more like part of the elite.
Being the somewhat predictable soul that I am, this gives me another chance to trumpet a fight that I’ve been wanting to see for a couple years now. Brad Riddell has fought his way into the rankings, Fiziev should have just done the same. Riddell vs. Fiziev is the must make lightweight action fight to book. Don’t miss out on this opportunity, UFC.
A huge win for Penne, who snags a victory over a fellow former title contender on her continued career rebirth. Kowalkiewicz made every mistake imaginable in this one, chasing Penne to the mat, rolling for a leg lock, deciding not to scramble up after creating space, trying to slam her way out of an armbar, and rotating the wrong way to scramble free. For Penne’s part, she showed the poise that once made her an Invicta champ and took perfect advantage of every mistake along the way for the first round submission win. That sets her up for another solid fight, maybe even somewhere in the top 15. A chance to climb into the rankings and for a prospect to add a name to their resume. Bouts with Amanda Lemos, Virna Jandiroba, and Amanda Ribas would all meet that criteria. Since Jadiroba and Ribas are set to face off, then that leaves Penne vs. Lemos as the next step to see if Penne is still capable of competing with the division’s best.
Finally the big performance that RIZIN fans have been waiting for when Kape’s signing with the UFC was first announced. Osbourne wanted to try and keep pressure on Kape, and even though he did well to not over extend while leading – and to draw out Kape for some great counters of his own – that still meant that he was spending large amounts of time at the edge of Kape’s range where he’s most dangerous. Eventually that lined him up to eat a massive flying knee that sent Osbourne crashing to the canvas. A quick ref stoppage likely saved him from more damage, even if Osbourne felt hard done by for the call. That finally leaves Kape in a winning position after two straight losses in the Octagon, and should once again set him up to face a borderline top 10 opponent. David Dvorak and Amir Albazi both seem like prime candidates for that kind of booking. I’ll go with Dvorak, since the Czech fighter’s persistant rangy offense is a riddle that I need more convincing from Kape that can solve on the regular. Kape vs. Dvorak seems like a great flyweight prospect battle as both men look to make runs toward contention.
OTHER BOUTS: Pedro Munhoz vs. Marlon Vera, Michael Chiesa vs. Stephen Thompson, Angela Hill vs. Felice Herrig, Casey Kenney vs. Raoni Barcelos, Bobby Green vs. Drew Dober, Vince Morales vs. Tony Gravely, Drako Rodriguez vs. Phillips/Else loser, Alonzo Menifield vs. Da Un Jung, Ed Herman vs. Ike Villanueva, Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Mizuki Inoue, Ode Osbourne vs. Tyson Nam, Miles Johns vs. John Castaneda, Anderson dos Santos vs. Randy Costa, Melissa Gatto vs. Alpar/Blanchfield winner, Victoria Leonardo vs. Liana Jojua, Johnny Munoz vs. Aiemann Zahabi, Jamey Simmons vs. Kevin Natividad