Perhaps the most technical man at Heavyweight, Ciryl Gane, will look to rebound opposite Australian slugger, Tai Tuivasa, this Saturday (Sept. 3, 2022) at UFC Paris inside Accor Arena in Paris, France.
Gane ran into a determined obstacle in Francis Ngannou, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. Just because the French fighter lost to one of the most talented fighters of his generation does not mean the “Bon Gamin” era is at an end! Gane remains just 32 years of age and a mere four years into his professional career, meaning the ranks of the Heavyweight elite likely have another 10 difficult years of trying to figure out his rangy kickboxing ahead of them.
Gane isn’t going anywhere. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Gane fights like a much smaller man. He still hits hard, but the former Muay Thai fighter prioritizes movement and distance kicking far more than the average Heavyweight.
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 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.
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.
The first two rounds of Gane vs. Ngannou saw interesting looks from both men. Ngannou was smartly looking to check kicks and answer with body shots, a smart move against a low kicker who pulls back from shots with wild head movement. Gane, meanwhile, adjusted well to having some of his low kicks checked. He built off the strike, instead throwing teeps up the middle or spinning into kicks, looking to catch Ngannou on one leg.
In general, Gane’s movement was proving effective against Ngannou’s power. He did nice work on knowing when to bail entirely from exchanges versus plant his feet and look to clinch. On the whole, he never allowed Ngannou to land anything too devastating — an impressive accomplishment.
Gane is still relatively new to wrestling, but he’s quite good at it.
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 a bit 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).
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.
It’s fun that Gane likes leg locks, but there’s still some technical refinement to be done in that realm. On the plus side, Gane did manage to scramble beneath Ngannou without getting death touched, so that’s a great sign for his defense.
Gane remains a unique and special talent at Heavyweight. As he continues to develop his overall MMA game and technical skills, the odds of Gane capturing Heavyweight gold only grow more likely.
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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