A few times throughout combat sports history a talent has been able to emerge in the heavyweight division without unfathomable ability more akin to fighters of the lower weight classes. Muhammad Ali’s footwork and lightness were like a welterweight. Fedor Emelianenko’s speed was like a middleweight, and Cain Valesquez seemed as though his cardio was so good he would have no trouble keeping up with those with a far lower number on a scale. The most recent emergence of this phenomenon is the current Interim UFC heavyweight champion, Ciryl Gane. With a background in high-level Muay Thai, and now a well-developed and well-rounded game, Gane has looked as though his movement and quickness have been a step or more ahead of every man he has faced yet.
As quick as he moves, his career has moved even quicker. Becoming a UFC titleholder in just 10 fights is unusual at best, although doing so in such flawless fashion as he is as good an argument anyone has ever had. After finishing an undefeated Muay Thai career consisting of 13 wins, Gane won three straight MMA fights in lower organizations before entering the UFC. A couple fights in the names bagan to rack up including Tanner Boser, Junior Dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov. The last of which earned him an interim title fight with Derrick Lewis when current champion Francis Ngannou was unable to come to terms with the UFC’s timeline.
In a one-sided performance, Gane picked apart Lewis before finishing him in the third round, cementing himself as interim champion and the largest threat to Ngannou’s reign in the world. The cerebral approach that Gane takes to fighting is something absolutely deserving of a closer look.
Ciryl Gane’s history as a pure striker carries into his MMA fighting style. Although young in his current sport, he is as patient and composed as any veteran. He works constantly behind his jab, which he begins from a low guard that is difficult to read. Although this exposes his head, a dangerous game to play against any heavyweight, his top-notch distance control allows him to stick and move and stay outside of his opponent’s range whenever he wants to. He also sets up his jab, and further his boxing combinations, by always feinting with his legs and shoulders, by doing so he draws out reactions to a variety of levels in his targets allowing him to enter with very little telegraph if any.
It seems that Gane irritates his opponents in the most practical way. By starting off most of his fights with low impact but scoring shots, such as his jab, leg kicks, teeps, and snap kicks, he doesn’t necessarily gain his opponent’s respect but does frustrate them enough to take risks. It is only then that Gane will sit down on his combinations and land with fight-ending impact. Typically Gane’s jab is used to pressure his opponents backward towards the cage, this is best for Gane because the more area behind him the more area he can use to retreat and re-enter without being cut off. When he has his opponent trapped heel to cage, he will pick his moments off of his feints to explode in with knees and power shots, and then exit on various angles. This makes him difficult to counter, although does take away some of the direct line power that is often favored by some other heavyweights when it comes to his hands.
Another skill often utilized by Gane is switch-hitting. From southpaw, he will throw a left kick consistently until his opponent has a read on him. He will then use the movement as a feint in order to draw out the bite, and then hide a step-through as his legs move into a right cross from the orthodox stance.
In terms of Gane’s grappling game, his ability to initiate takedowns is still more akin to Muay Thai where he utilizes sweeps and dumps from a striker’s clinch or chained off of the end of strikes rather than taking a direct shot. His submission ability has not been on full display as of late in the octagon but the threat is always there as he has even shown an impressive leg lock attack, rare in the heavyweight division especially. If anything, by having a fallback submission threat, Gane is able to be freer in his light-footed kicking approach when he is striking.
While Ciryl Gane holds the UFC Interim Heavyweight title as of now, it by no means satisfies the Frenchman. Now slated to take on his ex-training partner Ngannou, Gane now has the opportunity to not only become the first French champion in the UFC but do it against an opponent whom he knows extremely well having sparred countless rounds in the training room. The two will meet at UFC 270 this Saturday night in the main event to settle the score.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.