AFTER a boxing world title mismatch and a UFC event that failed to catch fire until the final bout, fight fans haven’t exactly had the dream start to 2022 they were hoping for. But all that changes this weekend.
UFC 270 is capped by arguably the most intriguing and exciting heavyweight title fight in the history of the Octagon.
Francis Ngannou versus Cyril Gane has got more narratives at play than a Netflix mini-series. Former teammates turned fierce rivals, two gigantic men with power and precision to end one another’s night with a single blow.
The champion, Ngannou, 35, has lived a life a Hollywood script writer couldn’t imagine. He escaped the sand mines of Cameroon to eventually cross into Europe from Morocco on a rubber boat.
He then lived rough on the streets of Paris before eventually finding his way into an MMA gym that would set him on course for a new life in Las Vegas.
Interim champ Gane, 31, has his own story too. A furniture store salesman who kickboxed in his spare time, he was originally brought in as a sparring partner for Ngannou.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) January 18, 2022
A natural athlete, Gane picked up MMA quickly and made his own debut just three and a half years ago. Now undefeated in 10, he stands on the precipice of a new dawn for the heavyweight division.
Considered the first in a new generation of heavyweights whose speed and skillset resemble that of much smaller athletes, Gane will walk to the Octagon first in Anaheim, California as a strong favourite – despite being far less experienced.
That fact will likely rankle Ngannou, who after abandoning his French team for a new setup in Nevada, has made things personal, refusing to acknowledge Gane and his coaches when in their company and playing down their role in his trajectory.
Ngannou became champion last March when he knocked out Stipe Miocic, the most celebrated heavyweight in UFC history, in a rematch that best displayed his evolution as a mixed martial artist (he was completely dominated in their first fight in 2018).
What a knockout! ????
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 28, 2021
However, subsequently the champ has endured/enjoyed the longest sabbatical of his career, spending time back in his native Cameroon and enjoying the trappings that being heavyweight champion brings.
His unavailability is what allowed Gane to capture Interim honours in August, TKO’ing Derrick Lewis in three rounds to cap the best year of his short career with three wins against ranked opponents; 2021 is the year Gane broke into the big time.
Ngannou isn’t as technically gifted or as fight intelligent as Gane. His objectives are a clear and present danger: obliteration via knockout. Kill or be killed. In fact, the champion has never won a fight on points in 19 starts. Yet he’s also never been stopped either, with his three losses coming via the judges.
Gane’s 4 knockouts, 3 submissions and 3 decisions unbeaten run best highlights his more rounded game. But whilst he carries the speed and IQ to pick holes and even embarrass Ngannou, the sheer power of the champion will keep Gane vigilant.
To say Ngannou has only a punchers chance reads harsh. But in reality, it’s apt. He has two rounds, or 10 minutes, to land the bomb necessary to switch out Gane’s lights. But much more likely is that the sport will take another leap forward with the emergence of its first modern day heavyweight kingpin.
Frustrated by the speed and accuracy of the challenger, Ngannou will grow increasingly desperate and be throwing wildly by the championship rounds before falling into one of Gane’s traps and being stopped via ground strikes or submission.