Ciryl Gane is one win away from exactly where he wants to be.
Not even a dozen fights into his career, Gane has only one more opponent to solve before entering rarified territory. If he gets his hand raised in his next fight, Gane will become UFC heavyweight champion.
Yet standing in Gane’s way is Francis Ngannou, a man that looks like Goliath and shares the backstory of David. The reigning heavyweight champion, Ngannou will present a plethora of problems for Gane when they meet in the main event of UFC 270 this Saturday.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Gane said. “He’s come so far and accomplished a lot. I have a lot of respect for that, but this is a big opportunity for me. I’ll be ready.”
All the extracurricular affairs between Gane (10-0) and Ngannou (16-3) will instantly become moot the moment the fight starts on Saturday. Any perceived animosity from Ngannou strolling past Gane backstage at UFC 268 without saying hello will be forgotten. The bad blood between Ngannou and former coach Fernand Lopez, who is now the head coach for Gane, will no longer be any cause of concern. The narrative will ultimately be told through what transpires in the cage.
"I am confident in my striking and I am confident in my ground game," said Gane, who will need to avoid those ferocious strikes from Ngannou. “Whether we are down on the ground or standing, I’m going to take control wherever I can.“
The undefeated Gane made quick work of Derrick Lewis to win the interim title last August. Lewis is one of only three fighters to defeat Ngannou, and he was also the last one to achieve that feat. Yet Ngannou has been on an other-worldly tear over his past five fights. He wiped out the old guard of heavyweights, knocking out Cain Velasquez and TKOing Junior dos Santos, and obliterated top-five contenders -- ones erroneously thought to be on his level -- in Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Ngannou also knocked out Stipe Miocic last March, beginning his reign as heavyweight champ.
Ngannou has yet to fight since winning the belt. In the interim, Gane won a belt that Ngannou stated is completely irrelevant. There isn’t any disagreement from Gane, who also badly wants to shed the interim label.
“That drives me, of course it does,” Gane said. “Not that I need any more motivation for this fight. This is the last step for me to climb to get to the top of the world.”
Ngannou is on record saying he will need a new UFC contract after he wins on Saturday. Asked about those comments, Gane chose his words carefully.
“Francis [is] a smart guy,” Gane said. “He is also focused on the future of his career. I hope he is also focusing on me. I am only thinking about one thing, and that is this challenge.”
Entering the bout as the favorite, Gane needs one more victory – albeit, one that will require the performance of his life – in order to forever change his life.
“I want to be the best fighter in the world,” Gane said. “I need to win this fight to do that. I’m only focused entirely on that.”