DERRICK LEWIS VS. CIRYL GANE
Heavyweights close out the show in Houston in a battle for the interim title as local favorite Derrick Lewis takes on unbeaten French rising star Ciryl Gane in the UFC 265 main event.
A perfect 4-0 since undergoing knee surgery in the spring of 2019, Lewis literally punched his ticket to a place atop the rankings with a second-round knockout win over Curtis Blaydes in February. In any other year and delivered by any other fighter, the uppercut bomb would have been a Knockout of the Year candidate and a standout highlight, but it’s become the norm for Lewis, who brandishes a different kind of power, even amongst the top heavyweights in the UFC.
With two wins already under his belt thus far in 2021, Gane looks to improve his position in the Fighter of the Year race with a third victory and an interim title win this weekend, invading Lewis’ home turf just a handful of weeks after outworking Alexander Volkov to earn his ninth straight victory overall. The technical and poised prospect has passed every test put before him to this point, and if he aces this weekend’s exam, he’ll head back to France with championship gold in his carry-on.
Even if you set aside the interim title stakes, this is a tremendously compelling clash between a feared knockout artist who continues to carry power into deep waters and a fluid, well-round athlete whose ceiling has still not been defined. It’s the kind of matchup each man needs to win in order to secure an opportunity to challenge for the undisputed heavyweight title and it should be an entertaining way to end another fun night at the Toyota Center on Saturday.
JOSE ALDO VS. PEDRO MUNHOZ
Brazilian bantamweights born two days apart face off in a critical clash in the talent-rich division as former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo takes on Top 10 fixture Pedro Munhoz.
Aldo, who is two days Munhoz’s junior, enters off a unanimous decision win over Marlon “Chito” Vera last December, his first triumph since switching divisions. There have been flashes of “the Aldo of old” throughout his first three bantamweight appearances, but he’s also exhibited a little more gamesmanship and reliance on fighting strategically, as evident by his third-round grappling against Vera that salted away the victory.
Munhoz, who was born 2400 miles southeast of Aldo in Sao Paulo, continues to serve as the resident truth machine in the 135-pound weight division — the guy you have to beat in order to be considered a contender and prove yourself against if you want to reside inside the Top 10 long term. Last time out, Munhoz avenged his earlier split decision loss to Jimmie Rivera with a unanimous decision victory in a thoroughly entertaining back-and-forth fight that earned him a third Fight of the Night bonus in four appearances.
There is a very real chance that Munhoz secures a third straight Fight of the Night bonus this weekend as this showdown with Aldo promises to be a high-octane affair between two similarly trained, highly skilled talents pushing to further secure their place in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.
MICHAEL CHIESA VS. VICENTE LUQUE
Welterweight contenders in the thick of the title chase collide in this intriguing main card matchup as Michael Chiesa searches for his fifth consecutive victory against violence merchant Vicente Luque.
Not only has Chiesa posted four straight victories since moving up to the 170-pound weight class, but he’s looked increasingly impressive each time out, culminating in his five-round decision win over Neil Magny earlier this year on UFC Fight Island. “Maverick” has played to his strengths throughout this run, showcasing his superb grappling skills and the conditioning to push a steady pace that wears out the opposition.
Luque enters Saturday’s contest having earned three straight stoppage victories, including a first-round submission win over former champ Tyron Woodley earlier this year at UFC 260. The 29-year-old Brazilian has won nine of his last 10 and 13 of his last 15 inside the Octagon, collecting a dozen finishes, cementing his status as one of the most diverse and consistent finishers on the roster.
The welterweight ranks have been moving at a quality clip all year and the result of this bout will directly contribute to that steady churn atop the division. While the victor could still be another win away from a championship opportunity, a place in a title eliminator tilt towards the end of the year or in early 2022 is a definite possibility.
TECIA TORRES VS. ANGELA HILL
Strawweights who first shared the Octagon together six years ago in Mexico City renew acquaintances on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande this weekend as Tecia Torres and Angela Hill size each other up for a second time.
Following a two-year run that saw her drop four consecutive decisions to elite competition, Torres got back into the win column last June, earning a unanimous decision victory over Brianna Van Buren before collecting a first-round stoppage win over Sam Hughes at UFC 256 to enter 2021 on a two-fight run of success. The Top 15 fixture the measuring stick for 115-pound hopefuls, with her five career setbacks coming against the last four women to carry the championship belt and Brazilian contender Marina Rodriguez.
Hill has come a long way since her first meeting with Torres all the way back at UFC 188, exiting the organization for a period before returning, finding her stride and becoming a consistent presence in the Top 15 herself. “Overkill” dropped a pair of close, contentious split decisions in the back half of her 2020 campaign but rebounded with a unanimous decision victory over Ashley Yoder earlier this year to get things moving in the right direction again.
Contestants on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter together when each was at a much different place in their respective careers, it will be interesting to see how the rematch shakes out six years later. Will Torres again get out to an early lead and never relinquish her position or has Hill made up enough ground in the subsequent years to bring things level at one win each this weekend in Houston?
SONG YADONG VS. CASEY KENNEY
Talented bantamweights aiming to get things moving in the right direction again share the Octagon this weekend in Houston, as China’s Song Yadong squares off with American grappler Casey Kenney.
Still just 23 years old, Song was saddled with his first UFC loss in seven appearances at UFC 259, landing on the wrong side of the cards against Kyler Phillips. Boasting considerable power for the 135-pound weight class, Song, who does his training camps stateside at Team Alpha Male, remains a tremendous long-term prospect as he continues to sharpen his skills and gain further experience against the best the division has to offer.
Kenney fought four times in 2020, opening the year with a loss to Merab Dvalishvili before rattling off three straight victories to set up a UFC 259 showdown with Dominick Cruz. The returning former champion came away on the happy side of the split decision verdict, but despite the loss, Kenney showed he’s capable of hanging with the elite of the 135-pound weight class and will look to get back to his winning ways on Saturday.
This should be a dynamic clash of styles, with Song aiming to keep things at striking range, while Kenney should look to use his judo and grappling skills to neutralize the Chinese hopeful’s power and either find a submission or grind out a decision. No matter how it plays out, it should be fun from the outset and another reminder that the bantamweight division is the most competitive collection of talent in the UFC at the moment from top to bottom.
BOBBY GREEN VS. RAFAEL FIZIEV
Veteran lightweight Bobby Green accepted the call to share the Octagon with emerging prospect Rafael Fiziev, with the duo meeting this weekend in Houston in one of the most intriguing matchups on Saturday’s fight card.
After logging four appearances in five months last year, this weekend marks Green’s 2021 debut, as well as being the 40th fight of his pro career. Coming off a close decision to loss to recent headliner Thiago Moises, the 34-year-old from California’s Inland Empire will be looking to get back to the form that produced victories over James Krause and Josh Thomson earlier in his UFC run and Clay Guida, Lando Vannata, and Alan Patrick last year.
Fighting out of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and representing Sanford MMA, the 28-year-old Fiziev enters on a three-fight winning streak, most recently earning a Performance of the Night bonus for his first-round knockout of Renato Moicano last December. Charismatic outside the cage and a dangerous striker inside of it, Fiziev has rebounded nicely from his debut defeat and established himself as one of the more promising additions to the lightweight division in the last several years.
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Green is the type of skilled, awkward veteran than is capable of ruin a prospect’s run, but he’s also the type of savvy, experienced fighter a hopeful like Fiziev has to beat in order to take the next step forward in his progression up the division ladder. Which of those things happen on Saturday night is still to be decided, but the process of figuring it out should be fun.
VINCE MORALES VS. DRAKO RODRIGUEZ
It’s a battle between Dana White’s Contender Series alumni as Vince Morales returns to bantamweight to square off with Drako Rodriguez.
Morales was 7-1 before competing on Season 2 of the summer talent search series, and is 2-4 since, coming up short in his bid to claim a contract before getting a win elsewhere and earning a short-notice call-up to the UFC. Though he’s 1-3 inside the Octagon, the 30-year-old has been in tough, losing to Song Yadong, Benito Lopez, and Chris Gutierrez up at featherweight, while collecting his lone victory by unanimous decision against Aiemann Zahabi.
Rodriguez won his DWCS fight, finishing Mana Martinez in the first round to secure a contract, but was knocked out by Zahabi a little over three minutes into his debut earlier this year. The former King of the Cage standout has only gone the distance once in his career and is only 25, so with his maiden voyage into the Octagon behind him, he should be in a good position to deliver a performance more representative of what he brings to the division this time around.
ALONZO MENIFIELD VS. ED HERMAN
All-action light heavyweights looking to add to their momentum meet in this one as Fortis MMA representative Alonzo Menifield squares off with tenured TUF alum Ed Herman.
After dropping back-to-back fights to Devin Clark and Paul Craig in 2020, Menifield rebounded in spectacular fashion earlier this year at UFC 260, catching late replacement and UFC newcomer Fabio Cherant in a Von Flue choke just 71 seconds into the opening round. A physical specimen that is still learning the intricacies of the sport and how to best deploy his considerable weapons, Menifield is already an explosive finisher and carries the potential to develop into a nightmare assignment and Top 15 figure in the next few years.
Herman has been in the UFC for 15 years and enters this contest riding his third three-fight winning streak during that span. His fight with Mike Rodriguez last time out had some confusing moments, but Herman handled his business, securing the third-round finish. The tenured veteran asked to be on a fight card in front of live fans again, and his request was granted, and now he has Menifield to contend with as a result.
If Menifield is going to approach that dangerous upside, Herman is the type of opponent he needs to beat in order to get there, while if “Short Fuse” can continue this late-career surge by turning back the Dana White Contender Series graduate, he could find himself standing opposite a Top 15 opponent next time out.
KAROLINA KOWALKIEWICZ VS. JESSICA PENNE
Former strawweight title challengers meet as Karolina Kowalkiewicz returns to face Jessica Penne.
Competing for the first time since February 2020, the 35-year-old Kowalkiewicz arrives on a four-fight losing streak and having lost six of her last eight appearances after starting her career with 10 consecutive victories. The Polish veteran shared the Octagon with many of the best strawweights in the world, including holding a victory over current champ Rose Namajunas.
Penne ended a nearly four-year absence in April, snapping a three-fight slide with a split decision victory over Loopy Godinez. The former Invicta FC atomweight champ and TUF 20 contestant is a strong, all-round talent who, like Kowalkiewicz, has faced a high level of competition throughout her career.
MANEL KAPE VS. ODE’ OSBOURNE
Manel Kape squares off with Ode’ Osbourne in a promising flyweight pairing on Saturday’s prelims that has the potential to be explosive.
A standout abroad before arriving the UFC, Kape has dropped each of his first two appearances inside the Octagon, initially falling to Alexandre Pantoja in early February before landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict opposite Matheus Nicolau five weeks later. “Starboy” has finished 14 of his 15 career victories but been hesitant to fire at times thus far in his brief UFC run, leading to him heading into this one with his back against the wall.
Osbourne earned his place on the UFC roster with a first-round submission win on Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series, but then got dropped in against experienced vet Brian Kelleher in his promotional debut and was promptly finished. He returned a year later with a 26-second knockout win over Jerome Rivera, and now moves down to flyweight with designs on handing Kape a third straight loss while establishing himself as someone to track in the 125-pound ranks.
If there is a fight on this card that is most likely to end in the opening minute, this might be it, and that’s saying something given that Derrick Lewis is headlining. When they’re both at their best, Kape and Osbourne are hunting for openings and trying to finish, and if we get the best version of each man on Saturday, this could turn into a fun burst of excitement early in the evening.
MILES JOHNS VS. ANDERSON DOS SANTOS
Bantamweights at different ends of the experience spectrum, but in similar positions in the UFC, share the Octagon here as Miles Johns faces off with Anderson dos Santos.
Another member of the Dana White’s Contender Series Class of ’19, Johns has alternated wins and losses through his first three UFC appearances, entering this one off a third-round knockout win over Kevin Natividad on Halloween that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. Sporting regional circuit wins over Levi Mowles and rising star Adrian Yanez, Johns’ upside is obvious; now it’s just a question of how high “Chapo” will eventually climb in the treacherous 135-pound ranks.
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The 36-year-old dos Santos logged 26 fights prior to stepping into the UFC Octagon, competing for a diverse collection of promotions while logging 20 victories, including being the first man to defeat surging bantamweight Ricky Simon. After dropping each of his first two UFC appearances on the scorecards, “Berinja” bounced back with a first-round submission win over Martin Day last time out.
VICTORIA LEONARDO VS. MELISSA GATTO
Flyweights meet in this preliminary card pairing as Victoria Leonardo makes her sophomore appearance against Brazilian newcomer Melissa Gatto.
Sporting an 8-3 record overall, Leonardo competes under the UFC banner for the second time after landing on the business end of a second-round stoppage early this year in her clash with Manon Fiorot. Each of her three losses have come against skilled competitors currently on the UFC roster and she’s shown grit, toughness, and tenacity in good wins over Jamie Milanowski, Liz Tracy, and Chelsea Hackett, the last of which earned her a place on the UFC roster.
The 25-year-old Gatto is 6-0-2 in her career including a victory over Karol Rosa, who currently sits at No. 14 in the bantamweight rankings. Unfortunately, that fight took place on September 29, 2018, and Gatto hasn’t competed since, having been forced out of each of her first three UFC assignments for different reasons.
This is an intriguing matchup because while you know what to expect from Leonardo — forward pressure, solid grappling, an overall relentless approach — Gatto is a complete wild card at this moment, having clearly excelled while still very young, but is now having gone nearly three years without an appearance. Having no idea what to expect is a compelling hook and this is one fight that should capture a great deal of attention on Saturday.
JOHNNY MUNOZ VS. JAMEY SIMMONS
Saturday’s fight card begins in the talent-rich bantamweight division with Johnny Munoz and Jamey Simmons each making the walk to the Octagon for the second time.
California’s Munoz made his UFC debut just over a year ago, dropping a unanimous decision to Nate Maness, which snapped his 10-fight unbeaten streak to begin his career. That bout was Munoz’ first against an opponent with significant experience against solid competition, and hopefully provided a blueprint for the improvements he needed to make in order to succeed at this level.
Representing Pura Vida BJJ/MMA, the 28-year-old Simmons was thrown to the wolves in his promotional debut last November, landing opposite Giga Chikadze on short notice while the streaking Georgian was in the midst of his run of success that currently stands at eight wins and counting. Prior to that, “The Afro Samurai” had won three straight, all by stoppage, but like Munoz, reaching the UFC marks the first time he’s shared the cage with elite opposition.
Neither of these men were particularly fond of the judges during their regional careers, so this could turn out to be an electric way to kick off the festivities this weekend at the UFC APEX.