In one of 2021’s more stunning performances, monstrous puncher Francis Ngannou made good on his second crack at UFC gold, knocking out and beating down champion Stipe Miocic.
Showing a more composed yet dangerous version of himself, Ngannou managed to stuff each takedown attempt while winning the range battle. This ‘Performance of the Night’ outing extended his win streak to five, with each coming through the power of fists.
When a champion looks unstoppable, it takes an equally-talented contender to produce both intrigue and competitiveness. We have just that in Ciryl Gane.
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Entering the UFC in 2019, France’s Gane tore through heavyweight’s suburbs, breezing past Tanner Boser to earn his shot at all-time great Junior Dos Santos. Once he dispatched of the former champion in December 2020, he positioned himself nicely for the year ahead, where he’d fight three times in the span of six months.
In a performance of the highest order, Gane outclassed Derrick Lewis in every exchange, rounding off his efforts with a third-round stoppage. With the interim title around his waist, there was only one fight to make.
With the pair being previous training partners at the MMA Factory in France, numerous people have weighed in as to who got the better of one another during sparring sessions. Sparring however, is exactly that – practice. On January 22, the world will find out who the best heavyweight on Earth is; previous events in training will be meaningless.
A more intelligent predator is a dangerous one, and this is precisely the circumstance with Francis Ngannou.
Since suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of Miocic and Lewis, he’s rebounded tremendously, running through each man placed in front of him. Though he dealt with these top contenders and former champions well, it never gave us a clear indication as to if his skills had truthfully evolved. Enter UFC 260.
As Ngannou buried Miocic into the canvas, it became clear that he was no longer the contender who wilted in the spotlight. He displayed a good pressure game, combining this with level feints and a number of kicks. His jab looked better than ever before as it drew counters out of Miocic and allowed for him to close the distance.
Even with his forward-moving pressure, Ngannou remains most threatening as a counterstriker. Against Curtis Blaydes he was able to cross-counter his lead hand, while Miocic was countered with a hook. Although these were thrown at range Ngannou’s proven he’s more than capable of producing power up close; Cain Velasquez was put down with a short shovel-uppercut.
At UFC 270, expect Francis to continue his patient approach. It’s clear he won’t win the volume battle, yet don’t expect him to forfeit the center of the Octagon as easily as Lewis or Rozenstruik. He’ll go kick-for-kick with Gane, punishing his guard with high kicks and stepping into range with hooks or the cross-jab combination witnessed in his last outing.
Having not competed for 10 months, who knows what version of Ngannou will show up. If he’s made progress similar to the rate we’ve previously seen, await an updated clinch game and better shot selection.
Boasting a professional record of 10-0, Ciryl Gane’s journey to gold has been rather quick. In under three years, he’s fought in seven fights, running into little danger.
Gane likes being the initiator. Rather than sit on the backfoot or counter, he’ll press forward with his jab and front/sidekick, primarily targeting the legs and body. Volume is a tool in his repertoire; knowing he’s fitter and faster than his heavyweight peers, Gane will shift in and out of range with strikes.
Ciryl is often seen with fairly low hands, which aids him in offence as he can fire jabs from several angles. This has a downside, though. With his chin less guarded he risks being clipped, something that is certainly a danger against Ngannou.
While his hands are often low, Gane utilizes the long guard quite well when shifting out of punching range. This allows him to block hooks and, depending where he places his rear hand, straight shots. The writer looks forward to seeing Gane make use of this on January 22, though should be cautious of when he chooses to do so.
An area of Gane’s game that I’d like to see more of is his grappling; with three career submissions, he’s no Marcelo Garcia on the mat, though he’s proven his abilities early on in his promotional run. Against Don’Tale Mayes (not exactly a terrific grappler), Gane displayed the capability to land reactive takedowns and score them from the clinch. This is something Ngannou will be wary of, despite his size and shovel-uppercuts.
Attempting to predict a heavyweight affair is always a tough ask. When two highly-skilled, large, and in some cases athletic men meet, it often ends in beautiful violence. This could be the case with Ngannou and Gane.
The juggernaut of a champion versus the technical, undefeated contender – the fight has been labeled a pick ’em by many. Though one must leave with the belt.
The writer believes that while the challenger will look good early, he’ll be unable to stay clear of the firing zone for all five rounds. Ngannou should blitz with a counter and catch him within the first 15 minutes, adding another knockout to his ever-growing tally.