Elite kickboxer, Ciryl Gane, will go to war with Russian wrestler, Sergey Spivac, this Saturday (Sept. 2, 2023) at UFC Paris inside Accor Arena in Paris, France.
Gane is not a man accustomed to getting embarrassed in the cage. A 6’5” athletic freak with remarkable natural talent, Gane picked up mixed martial arts (MMA) absurdly fast and rose up to interim champion status in just a couple years. Historically, everything has come quite easily to “Bon Gamin.” Jon Jones flipped that script. He manhandled Gane and submitted him unceremoniously. There’s still plenty of time for Gane to patch the holes and improve his way back to a belt, but first, the French striker must prove he can rebound from an ugly defeat.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Gane doesn’t strike like most Heavyweights. He’s a movement and volume-based range striker, a fighter who thrives on speed and setups.
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 Junior 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 puts together kick combinations, firing a lead leg toe stab then ripping the left kick.
Gane’s body work against Tai Tuivasa was extremely notable. Tuivasa’s fast hands and huge power got him in trouble early, but Gane took control back by ripping apart Tuivasa’s mid-section. Both Gane’s toe stab and left round kick were very effective, stealing almost all of the wind from the Australian’s sails and leaving him vulnerable (GIF).
Gane isn’t much of a combination boxer, but he has a sharp jab. For example, Gane’s bout opposite Jairzinho Rozenstruik was really a 25-minute demonstration on the effectiveness of his range work. The French athlete’s jab was exceptionally quick, 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.
Conversely, Gane’s victory opposite Alexander Volkov can be credited both to his speed and head movement. Much more than opposite Rozenstruik, Gane was crashing forward with shifting combinations, rolling his head to set up big power shots (GIF). Volkov didn’t feel comfortable exchanging with “Bon Gamin,” not when Gane’s speed and head movement saw him get the better of most trades. Then, when Gane started mixing the lead hand uppercut into his attack, he began to find the target more and more often, having already forcing his opponent to cover the wide hooks.
Gane’s performance opposite Derrick Lewis was a master class in picking apart “The Black Beast.” Early on, Gane was throwing quick little digs to the outside thigh from Southpaw. Hardly more than touches, they still are unlikely to feel great coming from an athletic Heavyweight. Gane then began to mix it up with heavier rips to the inside thigh. To really put the final nails in the coffin, Gane switched to Orthodox and would put all his weight behind chopping right kicks to the thigh.
It was methodical, smart advancement. Gane only began to commit more his weight to the low kicks once Lewis was really reacting to his feints and jab, helping ensure he didn’t eat a big counter shot in the process. Once Lewis’ leg was destroyed, Gane was willing to take chances. He started chasing after Lewis, swinging heavy hooks (GIF). That’s always a touch risky with a puncher like Lewis, but it was a far, far safer course of action given Lewis was already wobbly legs in a defensive shell.
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.
Gane is still relatively new to wrestling, but he’s picked it up quickly.
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.
Gane’s wrestling slog opposite Ngannou was definitely revealing. Against a similarly great athlete (though with different attributes), Gane’s inexperience was more visible. Ngannou was able to consistently find good success along the fence, tying up Gane’s waist and then tripping out his legs or lifting. Perhaps Gane would’ve been able to spread his base and fight hands more effectively while fresh, but deep into a title fight, he didn’t do much to stop the shot once Ngannou was in on the hips (GIF).
I don’t actually blame Gane’s takedown defense as the issue against Jon Jones, seeing as “Bones” timed his shot perfectly beneath a punch. Instead, it was Gane’s grappling that really failed him.
Gane has consistently 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.
Gane’s leg locking inexperience but willingness to jump on the heel cost him dearly in the fifth round opposite Ngannou. Some will argue that Ngannou was attempting to land a Z sweep from his back, but from my viewing, it sure looked like Gane was wrapping up the ankle before Ngannou started to scissor kick (GIF). Later in the round, Gane again entered a leg entanglement, but his failure to control Ngannou’s knee line meant that his cranking on the heel didn’t do all that much.
Against Jones, Gane tried to just stand up, an often viable tactic against Heavyweights. Unfortunately, Jones actually knows how to lace up legs and use low-energy mat returns to drag Gane back down. When simply standing up failed, it was essential that Gane committed to fighting hands, controlling one wrist, then stand up.
Instead, Gane lost a bit of steam and was knocked over to his butt. He again tried to stand up without fighting hands, this time using the fence to wall walk. Instead, Jones’ entirely free arms laced up his neck, and Gane didn’t do much to defend the choke either.
All of a sudden, the Heavyweight doesn’t feel as ready to be inherited by Ciryl Gane. Even with Francis Ngannou departed, and Jones and Stipe Miocic likely to retire, new challenges have emerged. Gane gets to face one of them here and prove he still belongs atop the heap as a likely future champion, or at the very least, that he can rebound from a difficult loss.
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.
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