Ciryl Gane stopped Derrick Lewis with a flurry of ground-and-pound strikes within the third round at UFC 265 on Saturday night, winning an interim UFC heavyweight title and therefore the next shot at champion Francis Ngannou. Just over three years after Gane (10-0) made his mixed martial arts debut, the Frenchman dominated the championship bout at the Toyota Center in Lewis’ hometown. Gane was booed vociferously from the instant he stepped onto the stage floor, but he largely avoided every strike thrown by the slower, more deliberate Lewis before hurting the veteran repeatedly within the third round. Lewis eventually collapsed in pain together with his back to Gane, who finished him on the bottom with head strikes.
“I’m happy, but I’m feeling a touch bit bad for my man ahead of his fans,” Gane said from the cage while Lewis’ Houston fans voiced their displeasure. “I can handle the boos, but I’m with you guys, I’m with you. Big love for Lewis, and large love for his family.” Gane is about bound to be the subsequent opponent for Ngannou, who won the particular UFC heavyweight title only four months ago by beating Stipe Miocic. The UFC’s decision to award an interim belt was met with derision around MMA, but Gane’s victory sets up the title matchup that probably would have happened anyway.
Gane and Ngannou are former teammates, putting an additional edge on their meeting. “I know him in Paris,” Gane said. “The fight goes to travel off, so let’s go. Let’s just go.” The popular Lewis (25-8) had won four straight fights over the past two years, revitalizing his hopes of winning his first UFC title. But he lost to Daniel Cormier in his only previous title shot three years ago, and he seemed to be overmatched against Gane. Gane got a title shot in only his seventh UFC bout, capping his meteoric rise from a powerful muay Thai career to the top of MMA. Gane even accepted this fight while his wife was thanks to giving birth in but a fortnight.
Lewis couldn’t get a hand on Gane within the opening two rounds, improbably landing just two significant strikes. Gane was much more athletic and elusive than the 36-year-old Lewis, whose success has always been built on landing power shots to form up for his athletic deficiencies. Gane picked apart Lewis within the first two rounds, and he hurt the veteran with an uppercut and a knee early within the third. Lewis was staggered, and he didn’t recover much during an opportunity to exchange his mouthpiece before Gane finished him.
On the undercard, former featherweight champ José Aldo beat fellow Brazilian Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision for his first back-to-back victories in 2 1/2 years. Welterweight Vicente Luque won a back-and-forth grappling match with Michael Chiesa within the first round, landing a D’Arce choke moments after nearly being submitted himself.