Francis Ngannou is still the best heavyweight in the UFC after proving there’s more to his game than just a highlight reel knockout after he suffocated Ciryl Gane with multiple takedowns over five rounds to retain his title in the UFC 270 main event.
No one could have predicted that it would be Ngannou’s wrestling and conditioning that would wear down Gane round after round to ultimately win by unanimous decision for the first time in his career with the judges scoring the fight 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 in his favor.
“I knew that he’s going to be a tough opponent,” Ngannou said about Gane. “No doubt. He was very good. The only thing that I had to do and my coaches were reminding me all the time, stay composed, calm down, don’t chase him, trust yourself and we get it.”
A powerhouse on the feet, Ngannou was stalking Gane across the octagon at the start of the fight while looking to uncork a knockout shot. While Ngannou did manage to land a couple of hard punches, Gane was effective with his footwork to stay out of the way or slip to the side to avoid those truly damaging shots.
In return, Gane was closing the distance, making Ngannou work to break free and then tagging him to the body. Gane was showing incredible quickness on his feet, which made Ngannou work that much harder to catch up to him and he was eating shots while moving forward.
Gane’s movement was definitely giving Ngannou problems as he struggled to catch up to his opponent in the exchanges. While Ngannou was trying to walk him down, Gane was quick in and quick out as he picked his shots “The Predator.”
With Gane still dictating the pace, Ngannou looked to turn the tables after catching a kick and then just slamming the Frenchman down to the canvas. While Ngannou was in control momentarily, Gane eventually scrambled free in order to get back up to his feet.
As Gane broke free from a battle in the clinch against the cage, he launched a huge spinning back elbow that clipped Ngannou before resetting in the center of the octagon. Gane continued to pepper away but then he gave up another takedown, which saw Ngannou really start to employ his wrestling.
With the fight fading into the fourth round, Ngannou resorted to his grappling yet again as he dragged Gane to the ground, although he wasn’t doing much damage outside of maintaining his control on top. Still, Ngannou was scoring points as the seconds turned to minutes with Gane stuck underneath him.
Between rounds, coach Fernand Lopez shouted at Gane not to let the fight slip away from him, which led to him going for a takedown of his own to put Ngannou on the ground. From there, Gane started to attack with a heel hook but Ngannou stayed patient as he escaped and then landed back on top yet again.
While he wasn’t mounting much damage, Ngannou just continued to pressure Gane on the ground while mauling his former training partner, who just looked lost when it came to his ability to get free and return to his feet. That’s exactly where Gane stayed until the final horn sounded with Ngannou confident in the victory as he put his hands in the air to celebrate his first title defense.
“I’m so sorry for today,” Gane said after suffering the first loss of his career. “Congratulations for Francis. I’m very sad but it’s good experience. The future is in front of me.”
In an interesting twist, it was UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard who actually wrapped the heavyweight title around Ngannou’s waist rather than UFC president Dana White, who was nowhere to be found. Afterwards, Ngannou was all smiles while he also revealed a serious injury that nearly prevented him from competing on Saturday night.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Ngannou said. “A very tough 10 months. Like three weeks ago, I hurt my knee. I tore my MCL completely, hurt my ACL. I wanted to [pull out] of this fight but I couldn’t see myself retreat from this fight because it was a moment for me to make a statement. I had to remind people that I’m the champ.”
Ngannou has now solidified his place as champion but there are still plenty of questions about what comes next as he fought out his UFC contract with the win over Gane. While a champion’s clause will prevent Ngannou from just leaving the UFC to become a free agent, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to come to terms with the promotion on a new deal or end up in a lengthy standoff as he seeks more freedom to pursue other interests such as a potential fight with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury.
“As I always say, boxing is always in the back of my pocket,” Ngannou said. “It’s something I must do before the end of my career. It’s not like I have a lifetime here.”