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UFC 265 interim drama looms large

Feb 8, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Derrick Lewis (red gloves) fights Ilir Latifi (blue gloves) during UFC 247 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Derrick Lewis (red gloves) fights Ilir Latifi (blue gloves) during UFC 247 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The main event of UFC 265 on Saturday night offers a case study in why it might be time for sanctioning bodies to control titles in mixed martial arts.

UFC president Dana White decided he wanted Houston’s Derrick Lewis to fight for a championship at the Toyota Center in his hometown on Saturday.

UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou of Cameroon, who won the belt on March 27, asked to fight Lewis in September or October. White declined and instead made a fight between Lewis and France’s Cyril Gane for an interim heavyweight belt.

Interim titles are usually awarded when a champion is injured or otherwise incapacitated for long stretches. The last time the UFC awarded an interim heavyweight belt was in 2014, after champion Cain Velasquez had been sidelined an entire year due to injury.

If mixed martial arts had sanctioning bodies as in boxing, a promoter wouldn’t be able to unilaterally decide to crown an interim champ as a cheap promotional prop. But White is ruler of his kingdom and decided he wanted a championship fight for Saturday night.

The fact this belt has all the validity of a prize one might win in a county fair game is not the fault of Lewis (25-7) nor Gane (9-0). The fight is a fine No. 1 contender’s bout all on its own merits.

Lewis is the UFC’s all-time heavyweight knockout king, with 12 octagon KOs. He has won four consecutive fights with a style that has combined two of the heaviest fists in the UFC with a remarkable ability to get himself out of bad positions and rally for victory.

Gane, meanwhile, is a converted kickboxer who has sprinted up the division. He has won all six of his UFC bouts, including victories over former UFC champion Junior dos Santos and former Bellator champ Alexander Volkov.

The card’s depth took a hit last week when women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes had to bow out of a scheduled defense against Julianna Pena after Nunes tested positive for COVID-19. The UFC did not opt to create an interim women’s bantamweight championship in her absence and will reschedule the bout for a later date.

–Field Level Media