The interim UFC heavyweight title is on the line on Saturday night in Houston, Texas, as Derrick Lewis takes on Ciryl Gane in a bout to solidify the number-one contender to face undisputed champion Francis Ngannou later this year.
With Ngannou and the UFC seemingly at an impasse in their attempts to set up the Cameroonian’s first title defence, the UFC has pivoted to an interim title fight, with Lewis returning to headline in his home town against Gane, an undefeated rising star and flag-bearer for French MMA.
Ahead of fight night, let’s take a look at the key narratives in the main event.
THE FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT
The fight may have an interim belt attached to it, but in reality the presence of UFC silverware in this matchup is little more than ceremonial and promotional.
The UFC’s ideal scenario would have seen Lewis challenging Ngannou on Saturday night. But, with the UFC seemingly unable to get on the same page as Ngannou’s camp, the UFC has instead drafted in Ngannou’s his former teammate from his old MMA Factory gym in Paris, Gane.
In order to keep the bout at the top of a pay-per-view card, an interim title was added, and, while the card originally also had a women’s bantamweight title bout between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena, the heavyweight bout was always the headline bout for the event.
It means that, while Ngannou is on the sidelines watching and waiting for his first fighting assignment as champion, the UFC will crown an interim champion with Lewis and Gane facing off at the Toyota Center on Saturday night.
HIGH STAKES, BIG REWARDS
For Lewis, this is just about as good as it gets. “The Black Beast” is a proud representative of Houston, and has made headlines over the years for his acts of generosity and compassion during some difficult times, including rescuing stranded citizens when floods hit Houston during Hurricane Harvey.
His self-deprecating manner and cheeky sense of humour has made him a hit on social media, while his amusing interviews and exciting fighting style has turned him from a mid-card player to a bona-fide star.
Saturday night represents the opportunity to reach the top of the sport by claiming UFC gold, with the added benefit of doing it in front of his own people in his hometown.
A title win would also bring lucrative financial benefits, too, including the addition of pay-per-view points on his next fight contract, which would likely see him face Ngannou in a huge title unification bout. It’s worth noting that a potential Ngannou vs. Lewis title bout would also be a rematch, with Lewis already holding a unanimous decision victory over the current champ after a lacklustre bout at UFC 226 in 2018.
That’s not to say this is a one-way narrative, however. While Lewis undoubtedly holds the home-field advantage heading into fight night, Gane has more than enough motivation of his own.
For starters, he has the opportunity to become the first French fighter to capture a UFC world title. And, should he do so, it could potentially set him up for a huge promotional push from the UFC as they look to break new ground in France, where the sport was banned as little as 18 months ago.
It would also set up a battle of former teammates, with Gane and head coach Fernand Lopez taking on their former colleage Ngannou, who left The MMA Factory to live and train in Las Vegas. If COVID regulations were eased sufficiently, and if things lined up accordingly there’s even the distant possibility that the pair could headline the UFC’s first-ever event in Paris sometime early next year.
It’s a huge bout between two huge men and, while it’s unclear how the fight will pan out stylistically, there is no doubt that big, big things are just around the corner for whoever picks up the W – and the interim strap – this weekend.