Interim Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight strap-hanger, Ciryl Gane, will look to unify the titles opposite knockout artist, Francis Ngannou, this Saturday (Jan. 22, 2022) at UFC 270 inside Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Overshadowed by all the coach and teammate drama is the simple fact that Gane has risen to greatness with remarkable speed. This time three years ago, Gane was a complete unknown with a 2-0 professional record. Once on UFC’s roster, it took the French fighter a mere two years to run through seven opponents and capture an interim title.
Regardless of Saturday night’s outcome, the 31-year-old talent is going to be a great Heavyweight for years to come. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Gane is a Heavyweight striker unlike most any other. A Muay Thai fighter prior to his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Gane moves exceptionally well, making full use of his range and quickness to leave opponents swinging at air.
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 put together kick combinations, firing a lead leg toe stab then ripping the left kick.
Gane’s boxing is an interesting case in that it varies 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.
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.
Finally, Gane’s latest win opposite Derrick Lewis proved an absolute master class. Gane’s movement was perfect, as he feinted Lewis’ senseless and was never in range when “The Black Beast” actually did swing. All the while, Gane was attacking the lead leg in a variety of ways.
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 when considering this is a Heavyweight contest. 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 took 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 on 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.
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 a very special talent, a remarkably technical Heavyweight already in his very young career. He pairs these skills and smarts with incredible athleticism: speed, quickness, and power that lasts the full 25 minutes. If anyone can navigate Ngannou’s power punching without getting blasted in the process, it’s like the French fighter.
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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