True to form regarding ignorance being bliss, unbeaten UFC heavyweight Cyril Gane is almost too green as a mixed martial arts fighter to even realize someone in his spot might normally be battling nerves entering Saturday’s UFC 265 pay-per-view main event.
Gane (9-0), a 31-year-old native of France, will bring just three years of professional experience — and a truckload of promise as the betting favorite — into his interim heavyweight title fight against Derrick Lewis (25-7, 1 NC) inside Houston’s Toyota Center.
Considering he left his hometown on the coast of western France in 2014 as a 24-year-old and moved to greater Paris to study business, what transpired over the next seven years make even Gane’s involvement in such a huge fight this weekend seem like a Cinderella story.
Gane, who focused on soccer and basketball in his youth yet had never trained or competed in martial arts, was forced to quit playing sports upon his arrival when he took a weekend job as a salesperson in a furniture store. A co-worker eventually asked him to stop by and train at a nearby Muay Thai gym and Gane took to it like a natural.
“This is a little bit strange but in every sport [I played], I was confident,” Gane told “Morning Kombat” on Tuesday. “I don’t know why. Maybe, it’s because I am comfortable with my body. [But] it is not a surprise [to me].”
Two years after Gane began competing professionally in Muay Thai, the furniture shop closed down. What it created was a crossroads point in which Gane decided to push all other aspects of his life aside and “go ahead and really, really, really train a lot.”
In 2018, following a 13-0 run in Muay Thai as a two-time national champion, Gane walked into the MMA Factory in Paris, the same gym in which his trainer, Fernand Lopez, had just helped guide current UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou to an unsuccessful try at then-champion Stipe Miocic’s belt, and began his transition into a new sport.
“When I started in Muay Thai, maybe after five months the coach put me in the ring and I did better each time I was challenged by better fighters,” Gane said. “Since my [pro Muay Thai] debut, it has been like that. [This weekend], I am going to fight Derrick Lewis and that’s fine with me. I have only been in this sport for three years and it’s normal for me.
“I don’t know, exactly [why]. Maybe, [it’s] because I just started a few years ago. I don’t have any pressure and I just want to make a show for the fans. If I win, if I lose, I’m comfortable with that.”
While Gane acknowledges that the 36-year-old Lewis’ devastating punching power makes him “my biggest test, maybe,” he has no shortage of confidence he’ll be victorious, even with being forced to fight in his opponent’s backyard. Yet given Gane’s rapid improvement with each fight since making his UFC debut at 3-0 in 2019, including back-to-back decision wins over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov, it’s easy to understand why.
“[This fight] looks a little bit like the one against Jairzinho,” Gane said. “[Lewis] has a big knockout power and when this kind of guy touches you, you are going to go down. We did some technical training about protecting and I’m going to do everything well that I did in my fight [against Rozenstruik] and I’m going to move and manage distance. This is not magic.”
What is seemingly magical is the way Gane’s muscular, 6-foot-5 frame dances around the Octagon compared to the behemoths he typically faces. Gane credits his background in team sports with developing his footwork, particularly in basketball where he claims to have been a quick and explosive dunker with a high vertical.
With everything from speed, technique and five-round stamina at his disposal, the only thing Gane has seemed to lack is the consistency of fight-ending power, especially compared to his opponent Lewis, who recently moved into a first-place tie along with Vitor Belfort and Matt Brown for the most knockouts in UFC history with 12.
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Gane appeared to press the pace in search of a finish against Volkov in June, the same opponent Lewis knocked cold with a single right hand in 2018 but was unable to complete his mission. Asked if he feels pressure to go for the knockout in each of his fights, Gane confidently shook his head.
“My style is my style,” Gane said. “When you have a guy like [Floyd] Mayweather, for example, he is not a kind of guy who gets knockouts. He is a technician fighter and I think I am this kind of guy. I understand people want [knockouts] but I have a good answer for this type of guy. I have three submissions, three TKOs and three decisions [in nine pro fights]. Everything is possible with me.”
A victory over Lewis would likely lift Gane into a unification bout with Ngannou, who claimed the title by finishing Miocic in their March rematch. Ngannou was unable to be ready in time to defend against Lewis and preferred to come back in September, which led to the controversial decision by UFC brass to appoint an interim belt atop UFC 265 despite the fact that Ngannou isn’t injured.
Gane said he understands the outrage by certain pockets of media and fans but insists that “maybe we don’t have all of the information and the news” as to why the decision was made. Either way, a potential Ngannou-Gane clash would be epic not just from a style contrast but because both came of age as MMA fighters in France, a nation in which the sport was banned professionally for 15 years until 2020.
Asked if there was history between the two of them in the same gym, Gane said, “not much.” They crossed paths shortly during Ngannou’s final days at MMA Factory before moving full-time to Las Vegas following a falling out with Lopez.
“We were born at the same gym. It’s when I started in MMA [but] I met him only two times,” Gane said. “That’s why we aren’t close. We have a similar coach and, if it happens, this is something for my coach to be really proud. I think a lot of people are waiting for this fight. Maybe, it’s possible, that this fight will happen in Paris and it will be a big success.”
Until then, the fighter who calls himself “Bon Gamin” — or “good kid” in English — is going to focus exclusively on beating Lewis the only way he knows how.
“How do I beat [Lewis]? I don’t know, this is a good question. I don’t know exactly,” Gane said. “I think I am going to do the Bon Gamin style and that’s touch him and he never touch you. This is my target. Yes, maybe round after round I will get a finish before the end.”
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