Welcome back to Across the MMA Universe. Every Friday morning we scour the sport's landscape, preview upcoming cards, tell interesting stories and, if at all possible, have fun. Let's get it on.
Ciryl Gane is No. 7 with a bullet.
A violent dispatch of Junior Dos Santos (21-9) last December launched Gane (7-0) up the UFC heavyweight rankings and into the fast lane. The Gane Trane came a bit out of left field, which is to be expected when Tanner Boser (19-7-1) is your second-most-famous opponent. Bit of a drop-off there.
Just two months later, the Frenchman finds himself in his first main event, facing No. 4 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-1) at the top of UFC Fight Night 186, going down Saturday from the UFC's Apex facility in Las Vegas.
With his undefeated record, his penchant for head-hunting and his chiseled physique, it stands to reason Gane is enjoying a new level of publicity this fight week. But he wouldn't know. He doesn't watch TV. Nor does he follow MMA.
Honestly, he'd rather be playing Call of Duty.
"I don't watch MMA," he told B/R in an exclusive interview. "I don't really watch TV. I like video games. Plus all fights are on too late at night. All the UFC fights? In Europe? They're on so late. I'd rather be sleeping."
Well, fair point. Given the time differences between the U.S. and Europe, most American UFC cards air over there in the middle of the night. But he did catch one recent fight: Derrick Lewis' (25-7, 1 NC) uppercut knockout of Curtis Blaydes (14-3, 1 NC) last weekend at UFC Fight Night 185. Those guys fight in Gane's bracket. And he doesn't miss a chance to throw shade.
"It was really crazy because Derrick Lewis, he doesn't have a lot of skills," Gane said. "He just has a lot of knockout power."
Those guys outrank him, but if Gane can finish "Bigi Boy" on Saturday, it's not a stretch to say he could face Blaydes or another established contender like Alexander Volkov.
"I'm a really young fighter. I love MMA and I want to do something in this sport," the 30-year-old Gane told me. "Rozenstruik, he's a young fighter like me, and it will be a good test. He's a tough guy. But I think I can do it."
The UFC Just Made the Best Fight It Could Make
Assuming their rubber match goes through, Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier are spoken for. Israel Adesanya and Jon Jones are stuck circling each other. But that doesn't mean UFC matchmakers don't have a card or two up their sleeves.
They certainly played an ace Wednesday when they announced women's flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko (20-3) will put her belt on the line against topmost contender Jessica Andrade (21-8) April 24 at UFC 261.
Shevchenko is a charismatic champion in her prime. The former muay thai world champ is known for sharp, rangy attacks on the feet, but her grappling and takedowns are underrated. It has led her to a six-fight winning streak, including four title defenses.
Andrade, a former champion at strawweight, has won five of her past seven and nabbed eight post-fight bonuses during her UFC tenure. She's a natural aggressor who attacks with volume and power—a natural foil to Shevchenko's counter-heavy game.
In her last fight, the 5'2" Andrade celebrated her flyweight debut by chopping down the larger Katlyn Chookagian (5'9", 15-4) with body shots so vicious you could feel them on the couch. Now that Andrade is no longer draining herself by cutting to strawweight, her chin and power may be trending upward.
This bout is fire vs. ice, and only one can win. Unless you count everyone watching, in which case there are many winners. The UFC deserves credit for making the best fight it could make.
Here's a Weird Sentence: Shinya Aoki and Sage Northcutt Will Fight
It's not often that the old school and the new school sit at such polar opposites.
But here we are with PRIDE legend Shinya Aoki (46-9, 1 NC), age 37, and 24-year-old former UFC heartthrob Sage Northcutt (11-3). They're set to do battle at ONE Championship on TNT 4, going down April 28.
The style contrast is stark. The brash Aoki is a grappler's grappler, a holdover from the age of specialists, when MMA was still a true style-vs.-style affair. He has racked up 29 submission wins—by comparison, that's more than double the number of Northcutt's total fights. Aoki may be one of the best three or four fighters never to compete in the UFC.
Northcutt is a bit of a stylistic throwback himself, relying heavily on his karate background to make hay. Plenty of fans, not to mention the UFC, unofficially coronated the shredded, bubbly Texan as the sport's next golden boy. It didn't happen. Northcutt struggled against top competition, and the UFC didn't renew him in 2018, leading to his signing with ONE.
If this match hits the ground, Aoki takes it. Simple as that. But Northcutt is extremely athletic and can crack. Make some popcorn and dig up that vintage Ed Hardy T-shirt.
Stone Cold Lead-Pipe Lock for UFC Fight Night 186
Welterweight Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira (22-9-1, 2 NC) had a nice little bout set up this weekend with Randy Brown (12-4)—until Brown pulled out last week for undisclosed reasons.
Into the breach, on less than a week's notice, steps Ramazan Kuramagomedov (8-0). This is his UFC debut. Good on Kuramagomedov for answering the bell, but against a hyper-aggressive veteran in Oliveira, he'll quickly find himself out of his depth. Lock it in.
He Just Wanted a Reason to Celebrate
Remember Zuluzinho (12-10, 1 NC), the one-name, 397-pound Brazilian who competed overseas in the sport's early era of weight-class fluidity? Of course you do. It's hard to believe he competed in a PRIDE heavyweight grand prix and once fought heavyweight GOAT Fedor Emelianenko.
Well, somehow the guy's still fighting at age 42. But something happened recently. Zuluzinho, while facing Yusup Shuaev in a Russian promotion, did something sort of unfortunate.
In the final seconds of the first round, the barely mobile Zuluzinho finally caught and floored Shuaev with a right hook that could have felled a mountain. He swarmed, and the referee intervened—but not to end the fight. He was merely stopping the action to end the round. That didn't keep Zuluzinho from celebrating, as he fell to the canvas in full snow-angel position.
Someone had to deliver the bad news. A crestfallen Zuluzinho went on to lose a majority decision. Here's to next time, big guy.
Walkout Song of the Week
Forget all this nonsense about "skills" and "training." All you need is a good walkout song.
Walkout songs have to cover a lot of ground. You need to get the crowd pumped. You need to intimidate your opponent. So you have to respect any fighter with the gumption to mix humor into the recipe.
That's what welterweight Mickey Gall (6-3) likes to do with Tony Basil's "Mickey". Do you see what he did there? It's his name.