Ciryl Gane is a former champion, albeit of the interim variety, and one of the greatest all-rounders in the UFC. He is fit, fast, explosive and presents many problems for the opponents. He’s not a one-dimensional guy who relies on big power.
He will fight for the vacant heavyweight title on Saturday against the legendary Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 285 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Few doubt his athleticism – including Jones – but the manner in which he lost to former champion Francis Ngannou raised many eyebrows.
Ngannou, who could not come to terms with the UFC and parted ways with the promotion earlier this year, is arguably the most powerful puncher in MMA history. But he defeated Gane by overpowering him, a tactic that drew Ngannou and trainer Eric Nicksick much praise but also raised questions about Gane.
The longtime light heavyweight champion, Jones has some of the best MMA wrestling in the UFC, and the thinking in some corners is that if Ngannou can overcome him, there will be bloodshed when Jones gets his hands on him.
While Jones recognized Gane’s physical gifts, he also questioned Gane’s ability to maintain a fast pace.
“I think Ciryl is a very athletic guy,” Jones told Yahoo Sports. “I think he stands out in a weight class where a lot of these guys don’t even like to go jogging. What I’m used to is guys who are lean, ripped, explosive, fast guys who have a tank of gas from Round 1 to Round 5. And I don’t think there are many guys like that in the heavyweight division, including Cyril Gane.
“Ciryl, I mean, in his last fight with Francis, Francis could barely move his feet at the end of the fight and Ciryl looked as slow as he was.
“One of my goals is to let the fans immediately see that, ‘Wow, Jon can really be in a class of his own right now.’ There is no one like Jon. There’s nobody like Jon in the UFC.” That’s what I intend to show.
“I feel as athletic (as Gane). The standards in my mind are the same as they used to be. I expect an Alexander Gustafsson-type war.”
Gane has heard the doubters ever since he went down to Ngannou at UFC 270 in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan. 22, 2022. He raved about Jones in a conversation with Yahoo Sports, but said his wrestling isn’t an issue.
He insisted that people who doubt his wrestling because of the loss to Ngannou are making a mistake because:
A) They don’t give Ngannou enough credit by overlooking his wrestling.
B) They don’t understand what went into his preparation for the Ngannou fight.
There was little reason for anyone to believe that Ngannou would try to fight Gane in that fight. But that’s what turned the fight in Ngannou’s favor.
“You look at a guy like Francis and what do you think the problem is?” Gane said. “His striking. He has that amazing strike and that’s what we prepared very hard for. Remember I knew Francis (from training together) and I knew how good his strike was. So we spent a lot of time preparing on that. “
The problem he faces with Jones is that while Jones isn’t the powerful striker Ngannou is, he has far more weapons. Jones has elite wrestling, but his long reach allows him to control the distance and national team opponents don’t expect.
The late Stefan Bonnar raved about Jones’ ability to cover ground in the Octagon after they fought at UFC 94 in 2009. He said Jones would be all the way across the cage in two strides, which is why he never got comfortable with the distance.
Palates lit up when he heard these Bonnar comments, as did coach Fernand Lopez.
“That’s what we do, control (distance),” Lopez said. “It’s Bon Gamin. We’re aware of what he likes to do and we’re prepared for it.”
If Gane defeats Jones, it will give him an answer to all the critics who have doubted him since Ngannou. He believes supremely in himself, and while he raved about Jones every chance he got, it went without saying that his confidence would have an answer for what Jones is trying.
And if he is right, he will change, perhaps forever, the perception his critics have of him.
“Jon Jones is amazing and you can’t take anything away from him for what he’s done for so long,” Gane told Yahoo Sports. “But I know what I can do and how hard I’ve worked to prepare for this moment. And now the moment has come and it’s up to me to prove what I can do to this man.”