5 Fighters on the UFC 265 hot seat

The Underground
Feb 22, 2020; Auckland, New Zealand; Karolina Kowalkiewicz reacts following her match against Yan Xiaonan during UFC Fight Night Auckland at Spark Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 265 will offer a stacked card with quite a few matchups that have fight fans salivating. Included in those intriguing bookings are fighters who — at varying levels — really need to get a win on August 7. Be it to hold on to their jobs, to finally move into title contention or because championship opportunites don’t come around often. Here are five fighters that will be feeling some added pressure on Saturday inside Houston’s Toyota Center.

5 fighters on the UFC 265 hot seat

Derrick Lewis

Derrik Lewis is not in danger of losing his job, or even his spot in the top five. He is one of the promotion’s most popular talents, and is part of a highly anticipated interim-title fight in “hot balls” versus escargot at UFC 265. The heat “The Black Beast” will be feeling on fight night will be on the outlook of his future title hopes if he doesn’t beat Ciryl Gane.

Title opportunities don’t come often and Saturday night will be Lewis’ second chance at heavyweight gold. He got his first shot three years ago against Daniel Cormier at UFC 230. Despite the huge size difference, the former two-division champion took Lewis to his Octagon wrestling class and made the Texan look like a Brazilian jiu-jitsu white belt in route to a submission victory.

A second title fight loss, especially if Gane were to outclass Lewis on the feet like some believe he can, could be devastating to his future aspirations of being a champion. Getting a third title fight after losing the first two is not a situation Lewis wants to put himself in. He needs to beat Gane or face the possibility of never getting a title shot ever again.

Heat level: 7 out of 10

Karolina Kowalkiewicz

At the end of 2016, Karolina Kowalkiewicz had a strawweight title fight lined up with then-champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and was universally viewed as one of the very best 115-pound female fighters on the planet. Since that title fight five years ago, Kowalkiewicz is 2-6 and is currently mired in a career long four-fight losing streak.

The notion of the Polish star one day being released from the UFC seemed like a foreign idea back then. But if the 35-year-old were to fall to Jessica Penne and lose a fifth straigh, her run in the UFC is over. And what makes that even more of a scary notion is that many of the other top MMA promotions in the world don’t feature a women’s strawweight division. Meaning she would not have much leverage in free agency. This is an absolute must-win fight for Kowalkiewicz.

Heat level: 10 out of 10

Vicente Luque

ufc 265 hot seat
Nov 2, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Vicente Luque (blue gloves) during his fight against Stephen Thompson (red gloves) during UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports

Brazilian Vicente Luque has been one of the better UFC welterweights over the last six years. The Ultimate Fighter Seaon 21 alum has put together an impressive 13-3 record in the Octagon and earned his No. 6 ranking the old fashion way. However, the major knock on “The Silent Assassin’s” run in the UFC is that he has yet to get that all important win over a higher ranked opponet that catapultes him into title contention.

He received that opportunity in 2019 at UFC 244, however he was not up to the task of solving the puzzle that is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. At UFC 265, he gets a different sort of puzzle in Michael Chiesa. A grappling ace who is surging at welterweight and actually owns the spot ahead of him in the rankings.

“Maverick” can survive getting his first loss at 170-pounds, but another loss for the 29-year-old Luque could perpetutate a reputation as having trouble winning “the big one.”

Heat level: 7 out of 10

Vince Morales

Saturday night is a make-or-break moment in Vince Morales’ UFC career. The Bellator and Front Street Fights veteran has not had a promising go of it in the Octagon. If you count his Dana White’s Contender Series appearnace 2018, he is 1-4 inside the promotion’s legendary cage.

He has lost three of four as an official member of the roster and back-to-back in his most recent outings. He does not have the name value of a Karolina Kowalkiewicz to make UFC brass think twice about handing him his walking papers. “Vandetta” needs a win at UFC 265 or his Octagon run is done.

Heat level: 9 out of 10

Manel Kape

There was a good bit of fanfare surrounding Manel Kape’s jump from being a Rizin champion to a member of the UFC flyweight roster. He has an exciting style and joined the promotion on the heels of three knockout wins. However, things haven’t gone too good for “Starboy” in the Octagon. He has lost back-to-back decisions and has some wondering if he can cut the mustard in the UFC.

A loss likely wouldn’t put the 27-year-old in danger of losing his job, but it will certainly push him in that direction. Kape needs a win not only to keep the UFC cost-cutters at bay, but just to quiet the doubters, and prove to himself once and for all he is a UFC-level talent. If he can beat another young and skilled fighter in Ode Osbourne at UFC 265, the doubters will disappear.

Heat level: 7 out of 10

UFC 265 takes place on August 7, inside the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The preliminary portion of the card will begin at 6 pm ET on ESPN and streaming service ESPN+. The main card follows at 10 pm ET, exclusively on ESPN+ with a pay-per-view cost of US $69.99.

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