Historically, the heavyweight division has been synonymous with highlight-reel knockouts and early finishes. At lighter weights it’s always been a popular idea that one has to be “a black belt in everything,” but due to the great equalizer which is power, heavyweights have been less constrained by this notion.
With the additional mass, fighters typically don’t have the gas tank to sustain their best for 25 minutes with few exceptions. The weight behind every strike thrown and the intense squeeze able to be generated by the best 265lbers in the world, lead to a fight so likely to end earlier than later that most resign themselves to this strategy. Not to mention, that since the early days of boxing, the heavyweight champion of the world has always been “the baddest man on the planet” and by utilizing the reflected aggressive style, this role can be cemented by any heavyweight willing to go for it.
Ciryl Gane, France’s most promising UFC talent today, flips all of this on its head. At 6-foot-5, shredded and young in his career, “Bon Gamin” looks the part. One would assume the young UFC star would be gunning to showcase his ferocity backed by his immense athleticism and physicality, however in reality he is one of the most cerebral heavyweights to ever grace the octagon.
Although only nine fights into his UFC tenure, his background is actually in Muay Thai, having successfully won and defended the Académie Française de Muay Thaï title. At 13-0 in kickboxing, Gane developed a solid striking game far before stepping into an MMA gym.
The French heavyweight carries this experience with him into the cage at an elite level, showcasing patience rare to the heavyweight division. He utilizes the jab, shooting it up from a low guard in order to hide it and add extra snap. It is even hidden further in his movement, which is characterized by light footwork and short feints from the legs and the shoulders.
With a reach of 81 inches and his particularly light footwork for the division, he is often able to stay at his preferred range. However, although he is able to land consistently and score this way, his jab is rarely enough to gain his opponent’s respect or do real damage. The more devastating game is what comes after the jab.
Typically, you will see Gane use the jab to put his opponent on the backfoot, and often against the cage. From there he will pick his moments to explode with more diversity, via knees and power shots. However, when doing so he is especially careful to break off on different angles, not entering on the center line so as to be countered, by doing so, although he may not have the impact of a direct shot, he minimizes the chances of taking damage when engaged.
He is also one of MMA’s best switch hitters especially among the latter half of the weight classes. From the southpaw stance, he will throw the left round kick to the head, body, and guard but allow his opponents to make the read. Once they feel as though they have the timing on his kick, he will use the motion to fake, and hide the step-through stance switch, allowing him to land the sneaky right cross.
Although his foundation is built on Muay Thai, his MMA record reflects a well-rounded athlete. Between KOs, submissions, and decision victories, his wins are equally divided 3-3-3. Since entering the UFC, Gane has worked well to diversify all aspects of his MMA approach, so as to not allow his opponents to get away with complacency in any area. In terms of his grappling, his takedowns still have hints of his Thai influence, stringing clinch sweeps with leg kicks and working the clinch rather than pure traditional wrestling.
Currently 9-0 in professional MMA and 6-0 in the UFC, a win over Derrick Lewis this Saturday will put Gane in the position as one of the few to win a UFC belt before 10 fights in the modern era. It would also set up one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time, across from champion Francis Ngannou, maybe the only other man divisionally cited as often as “the new breed.”
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.