Heavyweight technician, Ciryl Gane, will face lanky powerhouse, Alexander Volkov, this Saturday (June 26, 2021) at UFC Vegas 30 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Gane is almost certainly the most exciting Heavyweight pick up since Francis Ngannou stormed up the ladder. Just 31 years old and eight fights into his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Gane has already ascended into the Top 5 and title mix. Sure, his last bout wasn’t the most entertaining fight in the world, but he still 50-45’d a long-time professional kickboxer, showcasing a great mix of skills in the process.
The future is bright for “Bon Gamin.” Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
A perfect 7-0 in professional Muay Thai in France, Gane moves differently from the vast majority of his peers. Mostly, Gane works pretty evenly as a Southpaw or Orthodox fight, bouncing lightly in place and making use of a variety of hip feints to set up his powerful attacks.
There are a lot of interesting tricks in Gane’s kicking game. For one, his left leg in general is excellent. Gane does a very nice job of showing his opponent his left knee before chopping the kick, which can prove a difficult bit of misdirection. If the knee goes high, the shin could easily follow for a high kick, but Gane also has the dexterity to then bite into the thigh instead. By constantly switching between the leg, body, and head kick and giving his opponent the same look for all three, Gane really muddies the waters.
Gane demonstrated many kick set ups against dos Santos, really flustering the boxer. Often, he would simply flash a big hand movement before ripping the left kick. Other times, he would double jab or feint to gain an outside angle, then dig his low kick across the front of the thigh.
Left leg dexterity aside, Gane also made smart use of his lead leg. I don’t know if Gane trained Savate — a French-style of kickboxing that emphasizes toe kicks into the liver — or if French Muay Thai is just influenced by that martial art, but Gane definitely has a habit of stabbing his toes into his opponent’s mid-section. Gane will throw his toe stab kick straight up the middle or show his lead knee to feint an outside low kick then whip the toes to the stomach.
Gane also put together kick combinations, firing a lead leg toe stab then ripping the left kick.
Gane’s boxing is less developed than his kicking game, and it seems to vary a bit fight-to-fight. In his early UFC bout vs. Don’Tale Mayes, for example, Gane was stepping into the pocket with wide swings, really trying to take his foe’s head off. He did show some interesting looks that involved feinting kicks, changing stances, then swinging a big hook, but the focus was definitely on power punching. Alternatively, against a more dangerous striker in “JDS,” Gane was less willing to exchange. Instead, his hands served more as a distraction to set up the kicks. He would flash a jab at the hands to land a kick, or show a big swing just to get dos Santos backing up.
Gane’s bout vs. Rozenstruik was really a 25-minute demonstration on the effectiveness of his range work. The French athlete’s jab has never looked quicker, and he paired the strike — and the jab feint — with lots of punishing low kicks. Opposite the dangerous counter puncher, Gane limited himself to short exchanges even more than usual, rarely throwing more than a single punch at a time, at most following up with a kick.
He didn’t get hit all that much, so it clearly worked for him.
The final element of Gane’s kickboxing is his close-range striking. Not every athlete advertised as a Muay Thai representative is actually any good at clinch work, but Gane makes great use of his elbow strikes. This elbows largely land as the result of good fundamentals, as Gane uses sound head position and good forearm frames to jam his opponent back into the fence before unleashing. In the case of his dos Santos’ knockout, the Brazilian was so turned away from Gane that he probably could have chased the back, but the elbow landed perfectly as a result (GIF).
Aside from body positioning, Gane also likes to set up his elbows by folding over the top of the hands. Whenever Gane pursues his foes against the cage, he’s likely to reach and try to parry down a wrist and turn that strike into an elbow. Otherwise, the French striker makes use of the classic strategy of slamming home a knee then turning over the elbow as his opponent’s hands drop to guard from the next knee.
For a man whose boxing skills are the least proven aspect of his stand up game, Gane has shown consistently good head movement. That’s not to say he’s perfect — dos Santos did land that overhand on several occasions — but Gane does a better job of slipping his head off the center line and rolling beneath big punches than most big men.
While no one’s wrestling is truly proven at Heavyweight until they fight Curtis Blaydes, Gane has shown really great MMA wrestling thus far.
As it turns out, fundamentals of clinch positioning like head position and frames carry over quite well to wrestling. Against Don’Tale Mayes, for example, Gane scored a couple takedowns merely by circling to his underhook side as he landed strikes, giving him such a strong position that he was able to force his foe down (GIF).
In his victory over Rozenstruik, Gane really made smart use of his wrestling. In the first round, Gane managed to off-balance “Bigi Boy” by running the pipe on a single leg takedown near the fence, successfully setting the tone and making his foe more cautious. Later on, Gane would change levels into the takedown whenever Rozenstruik did try to open up with his offense, helping to ensure that Rozenstruik accepted the long range kickboxing fight that Gane was clearly winning.
It’s hard to read too much into Gane’s grappling, but so far, he’s shown a very submission over position approach.
In his debut, Gane’s foot sweep counter landed him in side control opposite Pessoa. Almost immediately, Pessoa turned away and gave up the arm triangle choke (.GIF). More initiative was required against Mayes, but Gane dropped back on the heel hook attempt in the final seconds of the fight. Watch the following .GIF and keep an eye on Mayes’ lack of defense/movement of any kind — it does take a bit of the shine off a neat submission.
Similarly, Gane tried a jumping rear-naked choke opposite Rozenstruik immediately after tripping his foe to the mat. It didn’t work, but it definitely showcased Gane’s approach to submission grappling.
Gane is the young, well-rounded contender that does not often appear in the Heavyweight mix. In this bout, he faces the rare foe who can likely compete with him in his preferred range, so it will be very interesting to see if Gane can adjust to that type of adversity.
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.