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Future of the Heavyweight Division in Balance at UFC 265

A new champion will be crowned at UFC 265 in Houston on Saturday as Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane fight for the right to become interim heavyweight champ.

This should have been a meeting pitting Lewis against heavyweight king Francis Ngannou. When Ngannou and UFC could not work out terms for this card, the decision was made to hold an interim title fight—which is certainly frustrating for Ngannou, but should lead to either a much better rematch against Lewis (their first encounter in July 2018 was a massive disappointment), or a chance to meet the undefeated Gane.

Unfortunately, UFC 265 is also notable for who it is missing. Amanda Nunes was scheduled to be on the card defending her bantamweight title in a bout against Julianna Peña, but that has been postponed following Nunes testing positive for COVID-19. Losing Nunes is a major blow to the card, especially against an opponent in Peña that appeared poised to give her a real challenge.

UFC 265 also includes Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque seeking to jump into the top-four of the welterweight rankings, as well as a potentially major moment for Angela Hill in a strawweight bout against Tecia Torres. The card starts with a banger, as bantamweights Song Yadong and Casey Kenney should give the crowd in Houston a phenomenal opener.

Here are some of the more pressing questions entering UFC 265:

Who wins: Derrick Lewis or Ciryl Gane?

If Derrick Lewis wins the title, the hometown crowd is going to erupt with joy. But if Ciryl Gane wins, he will have the opportunity to dominate the division for the foreseeable future.

The direction of this fight should take shape early. If Gane (9–0) can wrestle Lewis (25–7, 1 NC) and tire him out, then we are looking at a submission victory for Gane. No matter how much he has claimed to change his ways, Lewis does not have the same cardio as Gane. But if Lewis can force Gane to stand and bang, his chances increase exponentially.

Gane is still something of an unknown commodity. He has never faced anyone quite like Lewis, and I think Lewis meets his destiny with his first UFC title win Saturday.

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What happens to the winner of the interim title bout?

Right now, there is a noticeable disconnect between the UFC and heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. So while it would make sense to have the winner of the Lewis-Gane bout fight Ngannou in a title unification fight afterward, that natural progression may not happen just yet. That opens the possibility for the winner of Lewis-Gane to fight Stipe Miocic, the former two-time heavyweight champ eager for another crack at the belt.

Is the winner of Michael Chiesa–Vicente Luque next in line for a welterweight title fight?

Michael Chiesa meets Vicente Luque in a welterweight bout Saturday, each seeking to solidify himself as a real contender and presence in hopes for a title fight against Kamaru Usman.

Chiesa (18–4) has won his last four fights, while Luque’s (20–7, 1 NC) streak sits at three in a row. The winner should climb into the fourth spot in the welterweight rankings, though no matter the performance, neither is jumping ahead of Gilbert Burns or Leon Edwards. Chiesa and Luque run into the issue of whether they possess the star power to generate pay-per-view buys, especially if they are headlining, so this fight at 265 is a massive opportunity for them to stand out.

Can Angela Hill start to make a run for herself?

Angela Hill has come a long way since entering the UFC on The Ultimate Fighter in 2014. Stylistically, she is one of the most exciting fighters in the division, and she has been on the wrong end of some razor thin decisions. Hill (13–9) also has a great backstory: She was cut by the UFC in 2015, went to Invicta, and came back to UFC in 2017 better than she had ever been in her career.

Hill can use this fight against Tecia Torres, who is ranked tenth in the women’s strawweight division, to catapult her into the top 10. Torres (12–5) won their first meeting at UFC 188 in June 2015, and it will be fascinating to watch the evolution of both fighters in this rematch.

What else does 265 offer?

The co-main is a disappointment without the great Amanda Nunes. Instead, José Aldo fights Pedro Munhoz in bantamweight action. With Aldo (29–7) ranked fifth, this is a prime opportunity for the ninth-ranked Munhoz (19–5, 1 NC) to show that, despite recent losses to Aljamain Sterling and Frankie Edgar, he remains a legitimate threat in the division. Especially with Aldo not looking nearly as elite as he once did, this is a fight Munhoz needs to win.

Also, Song Yadong and Casey Kenney are going to open this card by attempting to knock each other’s heads off. This will start the crowd off on a hot note, with Kenney (16-3-1) and Yadong (16-5-1, 1 NC) both being fighting machines ready to put on an incredibly physical opener.

Though 265 is missing an integral piece without Nunes, the potential exists for this card to be surprisingly good, especially if the heavyweights deliver in the main event.

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.