UFC 270: Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane, a Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIJanuary 19, 2022

UFC 270: Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane, a Head-to-Toe Breakdown

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    UFC fans are in for a real treat this weekend.

    UFC 270, the promotion's first pay-per-view of 2022, goes down on Saturday night in Anaheim, California. And while the line-up is a little thin on big names, its main event is good enough that it really doesn't matter.

    The headlining honors will go to the heavyweight title fight between Francis Ngannou, arguably the most dangerous puncher in MMA history, and Ciryl Gane, the man Dana White recently touted as the sharpest striker to grace the heavyweight division.  

    "Stylistically, you've got Francis Ngannou, who hits and destroys, and Ciryl Gane, who's probably the best technical heavyweight striker ever in UFC history," the UFC president told ESPN after last weekend's UFC on ESPN 32 event.

    Both men will enter the cage as UFC champions. Ngannou became the undisputed heavyweight king in March 2021, when he knocked out the great Stipe Miocic. Gane, meanwhile, captured interim heavyweight gold in August, when he stopped knockout artist Derrick Lewis.

    They also happen to be former training partners who no longer see eye-to-eye, which adds even more spice to their fight.

    "It doesn't get any better than this," White said. "You've got two guys that are former training partners. They came out of the same camp. Now they don't like each other.

    "This is probably second or third time I've said this in my career: Vince McMahon could not write a better script than this."

    Heavyweight fights are among the most difficult to predict in MMA. When we're talking about fighters of Ngannou and Gane's capabilities, confidently picking a winner is nearly impossible. However, a closer look at their respective games reveals some interesting insights as to how the contest might unfold.

    Keep scrolling to see how they match up on paper.


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    Ngannou is one of the hardest punchers in MMA history. He might even take that title outright. His absurd power—and the devastating knockout victories it affords him—makes it easy to forget he's not that polished of a striker. 

    Despite his predilection for knockouts, the undisputed heavyweight champ is prone to some pretty significant errors on the feet. The most glaring is his habit of leaving himself totally exposed when he's attacking. 

    Gane makes no such errors. While the former TKO heavyweight champion doesn't have anywhere near the firepower Ngannou possesses, he's a significantly sharper striker as far as technique is concerned—and considering he went 13-0 in muay thai before getting started in MMA, that's no surprise.

    The stats reflect this reality. Gane lands a whopping 5.37 significant strikes per minute compared to Ngannou's 2.54, and he lands at a 57 percent clip compared to his former training partner's 41.

    While Gane absorbs slightly more strikes per minute than Ngannou, that's probably because he has a far longer average fight time than his rival—and therefore has had more opportunities to get hit. That discrepancy is reflected in their striking defense rates. Gane avoids 67 percent of the strikes thrown at him, while Ngannou only avoids 45 percent.

    The objective here is not to suggest Gane has a massive advantage over Ngannou on his feet. In fact, Ngannou's power ensures Gane will be in extreme danger for every second they spend in that position.

    But there's simply no refuting that, in terms of technique, Gane is the better striker.

    Edge: Gane


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    Ngannou and Gane are strikers through and through, which makes it difficult to compare their wrestling skills. They haven't given us much to work with in that department.   

    However, the stats suggest Gane has a slight advantage when it comes to wrestling. He completes an average of 0.71 takedowns per 15 minutes, compared to Ngannou's 0.2. He also has a perfect takedown defense rate, whereas Ngannou stops only 72 percent of shots—though that could be attributed to the fact that Gane has yet to fight an elite wrestler, while Ngannou has spent over 30 minutes in the cage with NCAA Division I wrestler Stipe Miocic.

    Gane has also shown a greater willingness to use his wrestling than Ngannou. The interim champion completed two takedowns in his recent decision win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and three in a 2019 submission win over Don'Tale Mayes.

    Ngannou has completed just one in the UFC, but again that could be attributed to circumstance: He is generally too busy knocking people's heads into the upper atmosphere to worry about takedowns.  

    This one's a toss-up, but we've got to give the edge to somebody.

    Edge: Gane


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    While Ngannou and Gane both do their best work on their feet, they've both shown a surprising knack for submitting people. Ngannou has actually earned five of his 16 wins with his jiu-jitsu, while Gane has done so three times in 10 wins.  

    Ngannou's greater collection of submission wins is likely due, in part, to the fact that he's fought six more times than Gane. However, he does attempt submissions slightly more frequently than his rival, chasing 0.4 per 15 minutes compared to Gane's 0.6.

    We'd also be remiss not to mention Ngannou's 2016 submission win over Anthony Hamilton. He won that fight with a first-round kimura—a maneuver he apparently learned backstage before he walked out. If that doesn't show good instincts for submissions, what does?

    Once again, these two seem to be separated by a very thin margin, but the available evidence suggests Ngannou will have a slight upper hand if this fight hits the mat. 

    Edge: Ngannou


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    Ngannou's X-Factor: Focus 

    Ngannou has an extremely tough challenge ahead of him. Unfortunately, he also has a pretty significant distraction on his plate: He's in the midst of a heated contract dispute with the UFC and will lose a great deal of his negotiating power if he's beaten. He surely knows that, but he can't afford to dwell on such things with a monster like Gane looking to take his head off.

    If the 35-year-old wants to win, he will need to be laser-focused until the moment the fight is over. Any lapses and he might get a taste of his own medicine and take a nap under the Jumbotron.


    Gane's X-Factor: Durability

    Gane has never been knocked out or even seriously hurt in MMA. He hasn't given us any reason to be concerned about his chin or his durability. Still, his chances of survival against Ngannou seem to hinge on his ability to withstand the hardest punch in MMA today.

    Even if the 31-year-old fights a perfect fight, he's bound to get hit by his rival at some point, and there's really no way to know how he'll react to that situation until it happens.


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    Gane looks like the perfect fighter to beat Ngannou. If he can withstand his former training partner's early onslaught, his chances of taking control of the bout and earning a late stoppage or decision win seem very good.

    However, this writer learned to stop picking against Ngannou long ago—even in the situations when all the evidence suggests he's in over his head.

    At some point—probably early—the undisputed champ will throw caution to the wind and start throwing bombs. When the mushroom clouds clear, Gane will no longer be standing.

    Prediction: Ngannou by KO, rd. 2