This may not be the pay-per-view card the promotion initially envisioned after a late scratch robbed it of the co-main event yet UFC 265 will still go on as planned this Saturday from Houston.
An interim heavyweight title tilt tops the bill as former challenger Derrick Lewis welcomes unbeaten Frenchman Ciryl Gane. Two-division women's champion Amanda Nunes was expected to defend her 135-pound title against Julianna Peña until a positive COVID-19 test postponed the affair.
Before they touch gloves inside the Toyota Center, let's take a closer look at the storylines entering this weekend.
1. It's difficult to look past the obvious in the main event
Let's face it, under just about any circumstances, Lewis-Gane is one heck of a heavyweight fight. Lewis, the jubilant knockout artist, is never out of a fight given his scary power. Gane, meanwhile, has looked nothing short of fantastic through nine pro bouts and six trips to the Octagon. But promoting the five-round main event for the interim title is an outright farce given that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou just captured the belt in late March when he steamrolled Stipe Miocic and told UFC brass he would be ready for his first defense by September. UFC's decision to mess with history by floating a meaningless title simply for the sake of marketing is the kind of promotional sin seen too often in the sport of boxing. It's also a fairly transparent move considering the announcement of this interim title fight was followed one day later by a UFC press release revealing a multi-card PPV deal with the Toyota Center, which meant having a Houston native in Lewis headline a title fight all the more important for UFC to manipulate. Lewis-Gane still has loads of potential to be dramatic theater, regardless of the politics at stake. Yet, it remains hard heading in to separate the two, even if the promotion thrived the last time it shoehorned in a pair of interim belts atop a card in a similar fashion at UFC 236 in 2019, which produced a pair of classic fights in Israel Adesanya-Kelvin Gastelum and Dustin Poirier-Max Holloway.
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2. Cyril Gane enters dangerous test looking like the next big thing
At 6-foot-5, the native of France has shown the kind of footwork and athleticism that is simply uncommon for the heavyweight division. Because of that, the 31-year-old Gane appears to be ready for the title level following an impressive five-round whitewashing of Alexander Volkov in June. For whatever Gane seems to lack in terms of fight-ending power, he makes up for it in volume and conditioning. Despite having made his UFC debut just two years ago, Gane also appears to be a potentially key asset for the promotion's future plans of taking over France, a nation in which the sport of MMA had been banned for years. The explosive Lewis presents the perfect style contrast to Gane's more deceptive approach and could serve as the perfect final test for Gane ahead of a showdown to close out 2021 against Ngannou, who first trained MMA in France after emigrating from his native Cameroon.
3. Mirror images Jose Aldo and Pedro Muñhoz promise fireworks at 135
Aside from Aldo's five-inch reach advantage and his decorated history as the UFC's inaugural featherweight champion, the pair of Brazilian sluggers who will meet in Saturday's co-main event are more similar than you might think. Born just two days apart and separated by just four spots in the top 10 rankings at bantamweight, both Aldo and Muñhoz bring similar fighting styles into this pivotal contest as powerful counterpunchers who prefer to do seemingly anything than take a step backward. And given some of the pre-fight chatter between them, which has been cordial and respectful yet heavy on the prediction for a fast-paced affair, one should expect this fight to compete for best on the card. Aldo appears reborn at 135 pounds despite starting his bantamweight campaign with a disputed loss to Marlon Moraes and a TKO defeat to Petr Yan in their vacant title bout. "The King of Rio" bounced back nicely to outpoint a streaking Marlon Vera in December and remains an outside threat to re-enter the title picture given his name and knockout power. Muñhoz, meanwhile, snapped his own two-fight skid following losses to Aljamain Sterling and Frankie Edgar by claiming a unanimous decision against Jimmie Rivera in February.
4. Michael Chiesa could make bid for welterweight title shot
Unbeaten in four fights since returning to the 170-pound division in 2018, Chiesa claimed he turned down a last-minute offer to face Kamaru Usman during the negotiation for the champion's title rematch in April against Jorge Masvidal. Ranked No. 4 by the promotion, Chiesa could see himself potentially leapfrog the bottleneck atop the welterweight rankings should he defeat No. 5 Vicente Luque and do so impressively. Luque submitted former champion Tyron Woodley in their March slugfest for his third straight win and ninth over his last 10 bouts. His all-action style should contrast well with the grappling attack of Chiesa. Usman will return in November for a rematch against Colby Covington, which leaves Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards as top-five contenders who aren't fresh off a defeat. Should those two fight one another, the path could open up for Chiesa, aided by the fact that he has yet to face Usman.
5. Keep an eye on lightweight Rafael Fiziev in the preliminary main event
A 28-year-old native of Kazakstan, Fiziev (9-1) shook off the lone defeat of his career in his 2019 UFC debut to rifle off a trio of impressive wins. His knockout of veteran Renato Moicano last December was certainly an eye opener as Fiziev's athletic and high-paced style made him look like a future title contender. The battle-tested Bobby Green, who enters having won three of his last four, should be a strong litmus test as to deciding whether Fiziev belongs in the rankings. The matchup also has potential to be an explosive one as the gratuitously deep 155-pound division looks to reload after recent losing skids from the likes of Tony Ferguson, Dan Hooker and Conor McGregor.