CAPE TOWN - The mixed martial arts world has been left in shock these past two days at the news of UFC 265’s interim title fight between Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane.
Following his win over Stipe Miocic (20-4) and subsequent coronation in March, the new UFC heavyweight king, Francis Ngannou (16-3) was celebrated across the world as another African-born athlete secured gold in the world’s most popular MMA promotion.
The Cameroonian joined the likes of (Nigerian-born) middleweight and welterweight champions, Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, respectively, as Africa’s only belt-holders on the UFC roster.
Before long, talks of a super fight with former light heavyweight champion and UFC elite, Jon Jones (26-1 1 no contest) who is in the transition of moving up to the heavyweight division, were on the cards.
While Jon is still conditioning himself in the heavyweight division after vacating his LHW belt, UFC president, Dana White stated that No 2 ranked heavyweight, Derrick (25-7 1 no contest) is in line for Francis’ first title defence.
The bout was scheduled towards the end of the year, until yesterday, when ESPN MMA broke the news on Instagram that Derrick would be taking on Ciryl (9-0) for the interim heavyweight title at UFC 265 in August.
The caption read that Francis is unable to defend his title in August.
This came as a complete surprise to many since Francis, who has since not released any notice of injury or break from the sport, won his title just three months ago.
Interim titles are usually created when champions are unable to defend (or are inactive) for a certain period of time.
Many global MMA promotions (including the UFC) have and still do allow for reasonable to longer grace periods for champions prior to opening up an interim challenge to keep the division active.
Following the announcement, a back-and-forth took place over social media between Francis’ management and Dana.
Ngannou’s agent, Marquel Martin of Creative Arts Agency released a statement to combat sport journalist and ESPN MMA’s Brett Okamoto which was made available on Instagram.
“This comes as a complete shock. To make an interim title so soon, if you look at the history of this division, it comes as a surprise. Francis is just now returning to the (United) States to begin training, and he just won the title three months ago. We’re unsure of what the reasoning is behind this, but we hope to get clarity and figure out something with the UFC soon. At the end of the day, they’re in control of these actions,” said Marquel.
“This dude is SO FULL OF S***!!! He knows EXACTLY what’s going on and isn’t shocked at all. Because we told him several times this was coming. His management is incompetent and hopefully Francis starts taking a look at new people to help his career,” was Dana’s response.
In the meantime, the UFC appear to be moving forward with the heavyweight interim championship bout, and both Derrick and Ciryl are excited about the opportunity.
“As a team, we’re all really excited about the opportunity and that after all the work put in over the years, we’re confident that Derrick will be leaving with his belt,” said Derrick’s manager, Lou Di Bono to Brett.
Cyril - who just beat Alexander Volkov (33-9) this past weekend via unanimous decision - along with his team are relishing the challenge ahead.
“This is the type of challenge that we love MMA Factory: How to finish Lewis without getting caught by that bomb he possesses. Ciryl and myself are so excited for this one,” said Ciryl’s manager Fernand Lopez to Brett.
UFC 265 is set to take place at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on August 7.