Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every Friday, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Ciryl Gane is ready for whatever comes at him next
Ciryl Gane won the UFC interim heavyweight title this past Saturday, dominating Derrick Lewis for over 14 minutes in the main event of UFC 265.
There was never a moment where Gane was in any sort of danger. He out-hit Lewis, 98–16, in significant strikes, the biggest differential ever in a UFC heavyweight title bout, and won via TKO; referee Dan Miragliotta ended the fight after a flurry of punches to Lewis’s head in the third round.
As Gane’s hand was raised in victory, UFC president Dana White wrapped the interim title around him, a rare moment where he was caught off-guard.
“That surprised me,” said Gane. “I really wasn’t thinking much about anything other than my fight. All I was focused on was winning my fight, even then in that moment, so I wasn’t ready for it.”
Both the game plan and execution were precise for Gane on Saturday. A flurry of vicious leg kicks on the lead leg completely disrupted Lewis’s attack, negating the chance of a powerful right-hand that could instantly end the bout.
Gane, now back home in France, reflected on a thoroughly dominating performance.
“My coaches are the best in the world, and they’re why I’m here,” said Gane. “I have a lot of respect for Derrick, and that’s why I needed to keep him in constant pressure. Those leg kicks were very important to my success.”
The undefeated Gane (10–0) now shifts his focus to a title unification bout against UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. With such an incredible combination of intelligence, power, and athleticism, Ngannou presents an entirely new challenge for Gane.
“The interim belt is a belt, and it’s a real belt, but I need to beat Francis to be the champion,” said Gane. “I don’t know where or when exactly, but that fight is going to happen.”
No matter the opponent, Gane is ready to re-enter the octagon as soon as possible. When asked if he would accept fights against the likes of Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones, there was no hesitation in his reply.
“My boss is the UFC,” said Gane. “If the UFC wants me to do something, I’ll do it. When the UFC proposes a fighter to me, like with [Alexander] Volkov [who Gane defeated this past June], who was behind me [in the rankings], I said yes because the UFC is my boss.
“If tomorrow I was told I’m going to fight Stipe or Jones before Francis, I would say yes. This is my job, and I’m going to do it so I can make money for my family.”
Although he is so deeply immersed in the present, training and preparing for the next fight, which will undoubtedly be the most important one of his career, Gane touched on the magnitude of his accomplishments. The city of La Roche-sur-Yon, France is not a breeding ground for MMA champions, but it is now the birthplace of the reigning UFC interim heavyweight champion.
“I believe in myself,” said Gane. “Without that, it would be impossible to accomplish anything. Everything is possible. People need to believe in themselves in order to do it. That is my story, and I am proud to share it. Now I want to continue on, and I want to make history in UFC.”
UFC heavyweight title picture needs Jon Jones to compete
Following Gane’s dominating performance on Saturday, the UFC heavyweight title picture has taken shape.
Gane's interim title shuffles the heavyweight rankings, as he is in line to move up after winning, and the natural progression for his next fight is a title unification bout against Ngannou. Styles make fights, and that is an encounter that has the potential to be spectacular. Gane was hardly even tested against Lewis, but Ngannou represents an entirely different puzzle to solve in the cctagon. With only 10 MMA fights, Gane has never encountered anyone quite like Ngannou.
The top heavyweight contender is two-time champion Stipe Miocic. He has made it clear that he wants a title match, and he has also expressed frustration that he has to wait for it. A trilogy fight pitting Ngannou against Miocic, which would serve as the rubber match, is another big fight for the UFC. Adding Gane into the mix is important because he adds youth to the title picture. At 31, he is three years younger than Ngannou and seven years younger than Miocic. Those three fighters form the core of the title picture, with a significant gap between them and the likes of Curtis Blaydes, Lewis, Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who form the middle of the top-10 rankings.
But even with a solid core in the title picture, there is one specific fighter who allows the heavyweight division to ascend to an entirely new height, and that is Jon Jones. The stock of the entire division will immediately jump the exact moment that Jones and UFC President Dana White finally agree on terms.
Jones (26–1, 1 NC) is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the UFC, dominating the light heavyweight division. He has had his share of controversies, including a hit-and-run conviction, DUI charges, and a battery charge. Issues have also arose with his drug tests, with instances from UFC 182, UFC 200, UFC 214 and UFC 232. Yet, similar to Conor McGregor, Jones is almost indestructible—incidents that may end another fighter’s career somehow roll off him. But even with the controversies, he is the greatest fighter in MMA. Given the chance, he would generate a huge number of pay-per-view buys for his bout against Ngannou. Fights against Miocic, Gane and even Lewis would all do big business for the UFC. Jones could run through the entire division, and every one of those fights instantly become marquee matchups. He represents the future of the heavyweight division, but with one major caveat: There is an expiration date.
White and Jones need to come to terms. Otherwise, time keeps passing, reaching a point where either Jones’s skills begin to erode (seemingly unlikely, even though Father Time remains undefeated), or public interest wanes. The time away from the octagon has not helped Jones become a bigger name in MMA. But even with the time away—Jones last fought in February of 2020—he is still head and shoulders above any other active fighter not named Conor McGregor as the sport’s biggest box office attraction. A fight against Ngannou should generate over a million buys and serve as a powerful—and lucrative—reminder of Jones’s ability to draw interest in a fight.
If Gane is the future of the division, a fight against Jones would go a long way to proving it. And that highlights Jones’s importance. The state of the heavyweight division is solid, but the addition of Jones brings it to a whole other level.
The Pick ‘Em Section
After whiffing last week, here are my Bellator 264 picks:
Gegard Mousasi vs. John Salter
Pick: Gegard Mousasi
Andrey Koreshkov vs. Sabah Homasi
Pick: Andrey Koreshkov
Raufeon Stots vs. Magomed Magomedov
Pick: Magomed Magomedov
Davion Franklin vs. Everett Cummings
Pick: Davion Franklin
Ty Gwerder vs. Khadzhimurat Bestaev
Pick: Ty Gwerder
Current record: 0–5