Among the many reasons Saturday’s UFC 270 main event is so enticing, from the soap opera backstory between ex-teammates to unifying combat sports’ biggest prize, is the alarming contrast in styles between defending champion Francis Ngannou and undefeated interim titleholder Ciryl Gane.
Ngannou (16-3) is probably the most devastating striker and one-punch knockout artist in MMA history. But if the native of Cameroon, who learned the sport in the same Parisian gymnasium which produced his opponent, is the immovable object of this fight, it is clear that Gane (10-0) is the irresistible force.
The easiest way to sum up what this weekend’s title fight unfolded at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., is this: if there’s a live heavyweight who can disarm and to surpass Ngannou in five rounds, his name is Gane.
But Gane isn’t just uniquely qualified to be the potential Kryptonite to slow Ngannou’s prolonged reign of terror inside the Octagon, fight fans could also be looking at the future of the heavyweight division. in the 31-year-old Muay Thai fighter.
For a division that has seen the biggest turnover in UFC history, heavyweight has long been a showcase of violence at its purest and most destructive core. Yes, there have been innovators and a steady stream of evolution along the way, including former champion Cain Velasquez’s introduction of a cardio-heavy style of wrestling, but the heart of the story of the division has often come down to what towering juggernaut can land the knockout blow before receiving a first.
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With a body carved out of granite and eight first-round stoppages in his 11 UFC victories, Ngannou has long presented the most chilling example of the type of danger present at all times at the top level of the division. Ngannou’s mathematical equation of power plus the vulnerabilities of the human chin consistently produced the same sum.
Unfortunately for Ngannou, and potentially the rest of the division as a whole, Gane’s game is anything but a simple equation. The fighter known as “Bon Gamin”, or “good kid” in English, introduced a fighting style to the sport’s glamor division that is more advanced than simple arithmetic.
“I think I’m the new version,” Gane said during the UFC 270 media day on Wednesday. “It’s a new era. You have guys like Tom Aspinall, another newcomer to this division, [and] we are a little different. I think we understand something more and that’s why it will be different. It’s not disrespect [to former Ngannou opponents] Like [Alistair] Overeem or Jairzinho [Rozenstriuk]. They are also excellent fighters.
“But it’s very different, it’s very different.”
At 6ft 4in, Gane is the same height as Ngannou, 35, and has a reach just two inches shorter than the frighteningly long one used by “The Predator”. Gane also brings the kind of physical frame that keeps him from getting roughed up in the clinch or on the ground, where Gane produced a pair of submission victories to kick off his UFC run in 2019.
But unlike anyone Ngannou has faced, what makes Gane most different is that he moves like a middleweight. Constantly changing stances and mixing in feints, Gane is the first elite-level heavyweight to employ the “hit but don’t get hit” style that’s great for longevity in the battlespace but nearly impossible to pull off with four. ounce gloves at the heavyweight level.
“I can see everything with my eyes and I can understand that,” Gane said. “In this division, I have the best footwork. I’m well balanced, I can finish the fight on my feet but I’m also in the ground game. Anything is possible with me.”
The architect behind Gane’s rapid transition from kickboxing to interim UFC champion is Fernand Lopez, the head of MMA Factory who happens to have guided Ngannou to both his first title shot – a unanimous decision loss to Stipe Miocic in 2018 – and his recovery from a pair of losses in the Octagon before the two parted ways on bad terms.
Lopez, who spoke at length with “Morning Kombat” in October, found it easy to sum up what makes Gane so different from every other heavyweight.
“Most of the time he’s cerebral,” Lopez said. “This kid is a computer, he’s just a computer. The good thing about Ciryl is that he quickly understands what you tell him.”
Once Lopez saw the huge potential from a striking point of view that still-green Gane brought to the table early in his transition to MMA, the veteran trainer made a strategic decision. Instead of worrying about takedown defense or whether Gane had the chin to stand alongside elite heavyweight forwards, Lopez focused on teaching his prized pupil how to avoid the knockouts altogether. two-way conflicts.
“I told him that instead of trying to knock people down, I need you to not get hit,” Lopez said. “I said to him, ‘I want you to complete your workout vertically. If you go horizontal, you’ve failed me. Just stand up and to do that just change direction each time and do people miss your way. If you can do that and stay up, you’ll kill everyone.
“Fighting from a distance allows you to not get hit. I told him that if he can block a punch, he is always at a distance to allow a wrestler to knock him down. I told him, ‘Don’t don’t block a punch, I want you to go in and out. I want you to take an angle so you don’t get hit.””
Through 10 pro victories in just three years, and seven in a row since his UFC debut, Gane has shown an evolved style the division has never seen at this level. In December 2020, Gane scored a telltale TKO of former champion Junior dos Santos. Dominant five-round victories over Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov followed until Gane won the interim title last August by wearing down and stopping former title challenger Derrick Lewis.
“How can you get a fighter to take on Volkov and get to the bell without a bruise on his face? That’s crazy,” Lopez said. “How do you have a guy who’s never been [put] once on the back? This is due to the fact [Gane] is very smart. If you’re not smart enough, you’ll get yourself into trouble and then you have to show that you have a good takedown [defense]. But if you’re wise, you won’t even put yourself in this situation to flaunt yourself.
While Lopez’s utopian ideas of avoiding all dangers in a division that is overwhelmed with potential pitfalls at every turn are ambitious, it takes a special type of athlete to implement them. That fighter is Gane, who could prove with a win on Saturday that he’s the kind of heavyweight 2.0 role model all fighters will look to model their game after moving forward if they have the skills and IQ to do so.
Again, this is something that is much easier said than done.
“Heavyweight is a division where people rely on strength. They’re so powerful. When you’re powerful, it’s easy to rely on power,” Lopez said. “It’s very hard for you to try to swim when you can just push someone and hit them. You don’t want to think about trying to swim. Techniques are hard to teach a heavyweight. The x factor for a heavyweight is the fight.IQ because it takes a big one to think about a need to be smart and rely on IQ and cardio instead of strength.When you use your brain, you can save weight. energy.Ciryl Gane doesn’t get tired.
“The future of heavyweights will be who the smartest guy is.”
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