Ciryl Gane is a former champion, albeit of the interim variety, and one of the greatest all-round athletes in the UFC. He's fit, quick, explosive and presents numerous problems for his opponents. He's not a one-dimensional guy who relies on big-time power.
He'll fight for the vacant heavyweight title Saturday against the legendary Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Few doubt his athleticism — including Jones — but the way he lost to former champion Francis Ngannou raised a lot of eyebrows.
Ngannou, who could not come to contract terms with the UFC and parted ways with the promotion earlier this year, is arguably the most powerful puncher in MMA history. But he defeated Gane by outwrestling him, a tactic that drew Ngannou and coach Eric Nicksick much praise but also raised questions about Gane.
The long-time light heavyweight champion, Jones has some of the best MMA wrestling in the UFC and the thinking in some corners is if Ngannou can outwrestle him, it will be a bloodletting when Jones gets hold of him.
Jones, while recognizing Gane's physical gifts, also questioned Gane's ability to keep a quick pace.
"I think Ciryl is a very athletic guy," Jones told Yahoo Sports. "I think he stands out in a weight class where a lot of these guys don't even like to go for jogs. What I'm used to is guys that are lean, ripped, explosive, quick guys that have a gas tank from Round 1 to Round 5. And I don't think there's many guys like that in the heavyweight division, including Ciryl Gane.
"Ciryl, I mean, in his last fight with Francis, Francis could barely move his feet at the end of the fight, and Ciryl was looking just as slow as he was.
"One of my goals is to let the fans see immediately that, 'Wow, Jon really may be in a class of his own right now. There is no one like Jon. There is no one like Jon in the UFC.' That's what I plan on showing.
"I feel just as athletic [as Gane]. The standards in my mind are the same as they used to be. I'm expecting an Alexander Gustafsson-type war."
Gane has heard the doubters ever since he went down to Ngannou at UFC 270 in Anaheim, California, on Jan. 22, 2022. He raved about Jones in a conversation with Yahoo Sports but said his wrestling is not an issue.
He insisted that people who doubt his wrestling because of the loss to Ngannou are making a mistake because:
A) They're not giving Ngannou enough credit by overlooking his wrestling.
B) They don't understand what went into his preparations for the Ngannou fight.
There was little reason for anyone to think Ngannou would try to wrestle Gane in that fight. But it's what turned the fight in Ngannou's favor.
"You look at a guy like Francis and what do you think the problem is?" Gane said. "His striking. He has that amazing striking and that's what we prepared very hard for. Remember, I knew Francis [from having trained together] and I knew how good his striking was. So we spent a lot of time getting ready for that."
The problem he faces with Jones is that while Jones isn't the powerful striker Ngannou is, he has far more weapons. Jones has elite wrestling, but his long reach allows him to control the distance and land strikes opponents aren't expecting.
The late Stefan Bonnar raved about Jones' ability to cover ground in the Octagon after they fought at UFC 94 in 2009. He said that Jones would be all the way across the cage in two steps and so he never got comfortable with his distance.
Gane lit up when he heard those Bonnar comments, as did coach Fernand Lopez.
"That's what we do, control [distance]," Lopez said. "That's Bon Gamin. We are aware of what he likes to do and we're prepared for it."
If Gane defeats Jones, it will give him a response to all of the critics who have doubted him since Ngannou. He believes supremely in himself, and while he raved about Jones every chance he got, left unsaid was his confidence he'd have an answer for whatever Jones tries.
And if he's correct, he'll change, perhaps forever, the perception the critics hold of him.
"Jon Jones is amazing and you can't take anything away from him for what he has done for so long," Gane told Yahoo Sports. "But I know what I can do and how hard I have worked to prepare for this moment. And now the moment has arrived and it's up to me to prove what I can do against this man."