Time to give Ciryl Gane his flowers.
You may have been rooting for Derrick Lewis (25-8 [1 NC]) to pull out a flash knockout Saturday, when he faced Gane for the interim heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 265. You may not have been a big fan of Gane's deliberate style. You may not have known who Gane was at all.
It's all a moot point now, as the 31-year-old Frenchman controlled Lewis from gavel to gavel to capture the gold and run his pro record to 10-0. The official end game by TKO at 4:11 of the third round. The win made him the first French-born champion in UFC history.
Don't look now, but this is what a meteoric rise looks like.
"I'm happy. I'm proud," Gane told broadcaster Daniel Cormier in the ring after the fight. "Everybody already knew my game plan, man. I like to move, I'm easy with my body and there's no secret.
Indeed, the game plan was as simple as it was effective for Bon Gamin (French for "good kid," by the way): stay at range, stay on your horse, spam the lower body shots.
The first round was relatively low-octane but it showed Gane's strategy right away. Gane push-kicked at Lewis' lead leg to help set up combinations, and wasn't too proud to essentially tuck tail and run when Lewis' right hand got too close for comfort. According to UFC stats, Gane landed 15 leg attacks in the opening stanza alone.
The second was much the same, even as it gave way to long stretches of inaction. Still, Gane was by far the busier fighter. Lewis repeatedly took the center of the cage and stalked Gane down, but never really let his hands go.
The beginning of the end came with about two minutes left in the third, when Gane landed a left jab down the pipe and followed it with a right uppercut. As Lewis doubled over and sagged back against the fence, Gane dashed in. It was clear then that Lewis' leg was compromised, as he seemed barely able to move to avoid the onslaught.
In the ensuing scramble, Lewis did manage to connect with one right hand—in the process lighting up the Houston faithful, who had been dying for a reason to cheer him—but it was a day late and a dollar short. By that point the blood was in the water and Gane was teeing off at will.
Almost exactly one minute after the uppercut, Lewis was turtled under a rain of hammerfists, giving referee Dan Miragliotta no choice but to stop the contest.
According to the UFC stats, Gane outlanded Lewis 98-16 in significant strikes.
There's no other way to put it: This was a master class. Gane moved like a man two weight classes smaller, staying busy with strikes even as he stayed light on his feet. There were periods of inactivity—a charge that has followed Gane through his now-two-year UFC tenure—but much of Saturday's downtime originated with Lewis. The big man knew as well as anyone that the morning star at the end of his right arm was his best path to victory, but he focused on loading up that one piece of offense at the expense of other weapons, like, say, a jab, or a low kick of his own. Gane landed all 32 of his leg attacks during the fight, while Lewis landed only two.
As charismatic as he is, though, this isn't about Lewis. So what's next for the new champ? That's as obvious as Gane's game plan. That's the other heavyweight champ, lineal belt holder Francis Ngannou (16-3), the Cameroonian-Frenchman who also happens to be a former training mate of Gane's.
It may not be what Stipe Miocic (20-4) or others want to hear, but suddenly a unification bout between the Gane and Ngannou sells itself and is a no-brainer for Gane's next matchup.
Might Gane be interested in such a bout?
"Let's go," Gane told Cormier. "Just, let's go."
Gane's story and game become more compelling with each passing victory. This is a guy who only chose to seriously pursue combat sports a few years ago, and even then only after the furniture store where he worked was shut down.
Four years of muay thai (only one of them as a pro) yielded a 13-0 record, which in turn led to Gane's decision in 2018 to try his hand at MMA. That appears to have worked out.
Despite having barely three years of pro MMA under his belt, he is advanced beyond his years, both in fight IQ and pure athleticism. His control of timing and range, of where, how, and when the action takes place, is all very hard to teach and to learn. But he's got it all.
Let's not call him a world-beater just yet. There's no need so start weird GOAT conversations, which seems to be all the rage even when it's not remotely called for. Ngannou, perhaps Miocic, and a range of other threats are still out there in the distance, dorsal fins cutting across the surface.
But at an absolute bare minimum, Bon Gamin showed Saturday that he belongs in the deep waters and is anything but chum. We have a new champion and new contender, both on the same night. Gane showed Saturday that he could be in the mix for years to come at the top of the heavyweight division.