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UFC 270: Ngannou vs. Gane - Can Ngannou squash his former training partner?

Get the lowdown on the two title fights of UFC 270 this weekend, topped by Francis Ngannou looking to defend his heavyweight crown against former teammate, the ascending Ciryl Gane.

I don’t have access to how much promotional money goes into UFC PPV’s, but it doesn’t feel like the UFC is putting as much of a push into UFC 270. I know anecdotal evidence shouldn’t count for much – if anything – but I’ve heard the same thing from others within the MMA community. If I’m connecting dots, it doesn’t seem like an impossibility. The relationship between Francis Ngannou and the UFC has gone about as south as it can go, Ngannou swearing his contest with Ciryl Gane is going to be his last fight in the organization, win or lose. Is it possible the UFC would be willing to somewhat tank sales for this PPV to possibly weaken Ngannou’s negotiation stance? My gut reaction would be no, but crazier things have happened within the world of MMA.

Regardless of whether that’s true, Ngannou’s fight with Gane is a fantastic fight. It’s possible it could be the most consequential heavyweight fight in the history of the organization as both have the potential to become the most dominant figure the division has seen. Plus, it’s hard not to get excited about the third contest between Moreno and Figueiredo. Those two contests are about the only reasons to tune into the PPV... but those reasons are good enough in my book.

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the televised prelims, click here. For the rest of the main card, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane, Heavyweight

There are many people who would list Ngannou as the scariest human being alive to run into in a dark alley. While there are arguments I’d be willing to listen to about the hardest hitter in the sport – Derrick Lewis comes to mind – Ngannou would be my hands-down choice for that honor. The type of power he produces with his punches is truly generational. As Ngannou’s boxing technique has improved, he has only become more dangerous. Only one of his last nine victories left the opening round, that being his title crowning win over Stipe Miocic... and that didn’t even make it a minute into the second round.

The initial belief when Ngannou was crowned was he’d be the kingpin of the division for years to come. In addition to sharpening up his technique, he shored up his takedown defense to the degree Miocic was unable to take him down after doing so at will in their first contest. Plus, after hooking up with Eric Nicksick, Ngannou appears to be a more intelligent fighter. Rather than give slick counter striker Jairzinho Rozenstruik a chance to launch something at him, Ngannou blitzed him off the bat and immediately overwhelmed him.

Don’t be surprised if he attempts to do something similar to Gane, but given the exceptionally elusive movement of Gane, it’s hard to believe he’ll be successful the same way he was against Rozenstruik. Gane is unlike anything we’ve seen in the heavyweight division. There are tons of lumbering power punchers in the division. There are a few power wrestlers. There are also some point fighters who rely heavily on technique. But there hasn’t ever been a point fighter with the physical tools of Gane. That isn’t even mentioning his technique, which is as clean as any that has graced the division.

If there is anyone in the division that has the ability and know-how to avoid a clean shot from Ngannou, it would be Gane. It has been well established that Gane and Ngannou were teammates and sparing partners at one point, so they know the tendencies of one another. Most seem to believe that favors Gane, believing his style of fighting requires a higher fight IQ. While there is some truth to that, Ngannou isn’t a stupid fighter. He’s sure to have taken some of the tendencies possessed by Gane and have an idea how he would want to exploit those. Plus, if either of them have made the more noticeable changes, it would be Ngannou given he’s the one who changed camps.

This is a very hard fight to predict. It isn’t difficult to see Gane staying on the outside, picking apart Ngannou with jabs, short punching combinations, and a wide variety of kicks. The occasional takedown attempt wouldn’t be surprising to see either as Gane has displayed some slick grappling chops. Plus, given he’s so young in the sport – he only turned pro about three-and-a-half years ago – it isn’t unreasonable to believe Gane won’t make more massive improvements. However, at the end of the day, it’s hard to believe Ngannou won’t land at least one massive shot over the course of 25 minutes. Sure, the chances of that happening lessen the deeper the fight goes, but I’ll say the reigning champion gets the job done... and pray we see these two fight again. Ngannou via KO of RD1

Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo, Flyweight

There is a large swath of fans who believe the third fight between these two should be completely different than either of their first two contests: he’s rededicated himself by moving his camp from Brazil to the United States. That he’s willing to change things up is a good sign and working with former flyweight champion Henry Cejudo should help him learn some new tricks. But will that ensure Figueiredo will have a smooth weight cut? That’s been his biggest issue for several years and he’s now 34-years-old, positively ancient for the flyweight division. Even if he has rededicated himself, that weight cut isn’t getting any easier.

Even if Figueiredo has a rough weight cut, it would be foolish to believe he isn’t going to be a danger of any sort. Though his four KO/TKO’s under his belt, it could be argued his striking is more responsible for his three submission wins. It could be argued two of those subs were secured in a club and sub manner. Only John Lineker comes close to rivaling him when it comes to being the most heavy-handed flyweight in the history of the division. Even if Figueiredo has a bad weight cut, he should remain dangerous, at least through the first couple of rounds.

What could be the difference for Figueiredo suffering another loss to Moreno – outside of his weight cut — is dependent on what type of wrinkles he can add to his game with Cejudo. Figueiredo’s game has always been simplistic. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Why mess with it too much when he’s been blowing up the division? However, a strong argument could be made Moreno has won at least five of the last six rounds the two have squared off. Moreno is a smart fighter, making adjustments throughout their fights. If Figueiredo hasn’t made some adjustments – and it doesn’t have to be wholesale – it’s hard to believe Moreno won’t run wild all over Figueiredo.

Part of the reason Moreno has been able to find success against Figueiredo is his iron-clad chin. The 28-year-old has faced some of the hardest hitters in the division – Ryan Benoit, Alexandre Pantoja, and Kai Kara-France in addition to Figueiredo – eaten the best they have to offer only to keep coming. Perhaps it’s an indication that his chin will be cracked sooner rather than later, but Moreno should just be entering his prime.

I’m sure I’ve played my hand in which direction I’m leaning, but I haven’t given the biggest reason why I’m leaning in that direction: Moreno’s wrestling and grappling. Moreno isn’t necessarily a traditionalist in either category, but both aspects are beautifully adapted to the sport of MMA and his physical skillset. He isn’t an overpowering wrestler, but he times his entries beautifully and more often than not is able to complete the takedown so long as he can turn the sequence into a scramble. Figueiredo isn’t a bad wrestler himself – he’s taken Moreno in each of their contests thus far – but he’s going to be in world of hurt if Moreno turns it into a ground battle. Figueiredo doesn’t have the gas tank possessed by Moreno. Perhaps Figueiredo can catch Moreno in his signature guillotine, but even if wrestling is equally mixed with the striking – or close to it – I think Moreno outworks a fading Figueiredo. Moreno via decision