ANAHEIM, Calif. — No one saw that coming.
If you say you believed Francis Ngannou would retain his heavyweight title on Saturday by outgrappling Ciryl Gane, you’re lying.
The guy who has been renowned throughout the combat sports world for his frightening punching power used takedowns and superior grappling to defeat Gane in the main event of UFC 270 Saturday at the Honda Center in their battle for the undisputed heavyweight title.
Ngannou won by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46. Yahoo Sports had it 48-47 for Ngannou.
The fight was billed as a battle of the sport’s best big men, both of whom were big punchers. UFC president Dana White said Ngannou was the most frightening puncher in UFC history and that Gane was the best heavyweight striker in the promotion’s history.
Gane had his way for the most part in the first two rounds, staying on the outside as predicted and using his athleticism to defuse Ngannou’s power. But Ngannou took Gane down three times in the third and it changed the fight completely.
Ngannou got top control and used it to his advantage. He swept the final three rounds on all three judges’ cards and didn’t land one massive power shot.
Ngannou wore a pair of knee sleeves and revealed after the fight that he’d torn his ACL completely three weeks ago. But he went on with the fight and did something few, if any, outside of his team could have imagined he’d do. It was the first win by decision of his career, as he improved to 17-3.
“I couldn’t see myself retreating from this fight, because I’m a champion,” Ngannou said. “People forget about me, but I’m a champion.”
And in MMA, champions need to be effective in all realms of the sport, not just unloading power shots. Ngannou was that. Gane did nothing surprising but virtually everything Ngannou did was.
Now, did that help him to sell a potential and much-discussed fight with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury? That’s debatable, but what Ngannou did show is that he’s going to be a major threat to every UFC fighter he faces from this point forward, and not just because of his punching power.
Gane may have cost himself the fight when he went for a leglock that allowed Ngannou to regain top position. He was disappointed, but he’s going to be a player for a long time to come in this division.
“I’m disappointed and I’m a little sad, but it was a good experience,” Gane said. “I’m just arriving in this game. The future is in front of me.”
And the future of Francis Ngannou, grappler, is too.