CIRYL Gane will have to live up to his reputation as the first in a new generation of heavyweight talent when he contests the Interim UFC championship belt this weekend against fan favourite Derrick Lewis.
The 31-year-old Frenchman only made his MMA debut in the summer 2018, but has rocketed his way to nine straight wins – including six finishes – on route to UFC gold.
Gane’s countryman Francis Ngannou, the current UFC heavyweight champion, but has delayed his return to the Octagon until the end of the year. Not wanting the division to stagnate, Lewis and Gane will contest the junior belt and with it the #1 contender spot.
Big-punching Lewis, 25-7 with 20 knockouts, will have hometown advantage at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, ensuring a menacing capacity crowd awaits Gane. But the technically superior former Muay Thai fighter is confident of causing an upset.
“I’m just looking forward to fighting in front of a crowd again, even if they are booing me,” says Gane, whose last three wins have come behind closed doors due to the Covid pandemic.
“Lewis is a big puncher and very dangerous. I respect him but I do not fear him and I am confident of victory.”
Lewis, 36, is #2 ranked for a reason. He may have very obvious flaws as a mixed martial artist with practically non-existent grappling offense. But his remarkable ability to get back to his feet when taken down coupled with one-punch KO power in his hands are a potent combination.
‘The Black Beast’ also carries his power late with third and even fourth round knockouts adorning his record. Lewis can also feel aggrieved it’s not true champ Ngannou in the opposing corner, who he defeated back in 2018 a month before Gane’s first MMA outing.
Yet if experience and home advantage are firmly in the corner of Lewis, technical acumen and irrepressible potential are certainly qualities afforded to Gane.
Lewis: "He's gonna try and stay away and do all these little fancy kicks."
Gane: "He's not well-rounded. Everyone knows what his strengths are."
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) August 3, 2021
In a division first dominated by burly sluggers then former collegiate wrestlers, Gane is a natural athlete who has been shaped into a prizefighter. Had he stepped onto a running track or rugby field rather than into a ring a decade ago, who knows, he could well be out in Tokyo right now competing under the tricolour.
A technically sound striker with fast hands and sharp ring IQ, he’s also got a ground game that by far transcends his time on the mats. All Gane lacks is experience; this will be only his 24th fight, MMA and Muay Thai combined.
After stopping former champion Junior dos Santos with a devastating elbow, Gane has won 10 rounds straight across back-to-back main events against top contenders Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov. He’s been so dominant the UFC had no choice but to throw him in with Lewis.
The power of the Beast cannot be denied and if he lands clean on any man, Gane included, they are going over. But the visitor has the footwork and speed to stay out of range and, crucially, make Lewis fight at a tempo that will devour his limited cardio.
Employing that long reach, expect feinting and firing Gane to make Lewis work at pace from the opening bell before closing out another flawless performance with a late finish or unanimous decision.