The most feared fighter in the MMA world squares off against an undefeated, rare talent for the UFC Heavyweight Championship this Sunday (AEDT). But will Cyril Gane’s star continue to soar, or is Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou destined to decimate another hapless opponent with a swift knockout?
This title-unifying fight has been billed as one of the most exciting UFC heavyweight match-ups in years. And this time, there’s no hyperbole amid the customary pre-fight hype.
Reigning champion Francis Ngannou is arguably the most terrifying fighter the UFC has ever seen. He belatedly won the Heavyweight Championship from the great Stipe Miocic in brutal style last year – and giving the belt up first time out won’t be on ‘The Predator’s’ agenda.
But Ngannou has his work cut out against new sensation and interim champ Cyril Gane. In just three-and-a-half years in the MMA ranks, the Frenchman has proved himself as one of the most electrifying and uniquely talented fighters the division has seen for some time. Gane is also the $1.65 favourite to became the undisputed champion.
Ngannou here for a good time, not a long time
Since losing back-to-back decisions to Miocic and Derrick Lewis in 2018, Ngannou has obliterated all comers. All five of his fights since have finished via knockout inside two rounds.
The Cameroonian destroyer finished Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and the previously undefeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the opening round. He needed a total of two minutes and 42 seconds in the ring to punches his way to the quartet of victories.
Ngannou earned another shot at the title last March – and Miocic found himself opposite a much more formidable fighter. The bout was over 52 seconds in the second round, Miocic rocked by a vicious right-hand jab and a stunning left hook in quick succession.
Ngannou’s takedown defence was also a key feature of the brief blockbuster.
Gane confronts big step up
Former Muay Thai star Gane has wasted little time since making the move to MMA. He is 10-0 and has chalked up seven impressive wins since his UFC debut in August 2019.
In the past year, he outfought Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov to get five-round decisions, before winning the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship with a third-round TKO of Lewis.
Gane is a heavyweight unicorn. While still a venomous striker, he moves like a welterweight and is technically outstanding. His footwork, movement and cardio is undoubtedly superior to Ngannou’s. Many UFC pundits are backing the 31-year-old to avoid an unwinnable firefight with former training partner Ngannou and thread the needle enough times across five rounds to claim a decision victory and the belt.
But as Ngannou has publicly declared, attempting to outmanoeuvre someone of his power and insane striking ability for five rounds is risky. Ngannou, in his present incarnation, is a long way ahead of anyone Gane has encountered in a relatively short MMA tenure.
.@francis_ngannou reveals that he knocked Ciryl Gane out with an "accidental" left high kick during training 😶
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) January 19, 2022
Despite being the underdog, the shortest-priced method of victory is a Ngannou KO/TKO ($2.40). Gane is $3.60 to stop Ngannou by knockout and $4 to get a decision result.
Making up for lost time
Ngannou has been relatively inactive – this is just his third fight since June 2019. But he lays the blame squarely at the feet of Dana White and UFC brass, who controversially introduced the interim belt after Ngannou was unable to compete in August…just five months after he won the title.
Ngannou also claims White and co. have not been offering him fights. Then there’s the long-running, bitter feud with his ex-coach, and Gane’s current mentor, Fernand Lopez. While there’s a danger he could have ring rust in his first fight in 10 months, ‘The Predator’ is angry – and he’s hellbent on taking his White-hot frustration out on emerging heavyweight pin-up Gane.
— CageChat MMA (@CageChatMMA) January 20, 2022
Putting Gane to sleep early will be Ngannou’s top priority; don’t sleep on the $4 knockout value.