Rising contender Ciryl Gane could be a problem for top UFC heavyweights

LAS VEGAS - The day Fernand Lopez first looked at Ciryl Gane, his mind started racing. He glanced at the Frenchman and immediately began calculating what he could do with a man who not only stood 6-foot-6 but was so athletic that professional basketball leagues in France were looking for him after him interested took up the game.
It wasn't long before Lopez realized that Gane could be special in the fighting game.
However, this was the second time a budding champion wandered through the doors of his gym and basically fell into his lap. A few years earlier, it was Francis Ngannou who showed up at Lopez's Paris gym, The MMA Factory, in hopes of becoming the next Mike Tyson.
Lopez helped make Ngannou the scariest MMA fighter in the world before they split after losing a UFC heavyweight title bout to Stipe Miocic in 2018.
Gane doesn't have the sheer power that Ngannou has - who but Tyson himself? - but he has a lot of it. And he's one of the best athletes in the UFC, despite being so big and huge.
He didn't play basketball for the first time until he was in his early twenties. He was immediately one of the best players in his region and quickly aroused interest from professional scouts in France.
He is fast and agile and, like Ngannou before him, has adapted seamlessly to MMA. On Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN +) at Apex, the Gane in seventh place will challenge Jairzinho Rozenstruik in an important heavyweight bout at the UFC Vegas 20 main event.
A win would make Gane 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the UFC and certify him as a legitimate championship contender.
"This is such an important fight for me," said Gane. “Everyone wants to fight [for the title], but that's in the future. Right now I'm just thinking about this guy. "
(R-L) Ciryl Gane from France beats Junior dos Santos from Brazil in their heavyweight fight during UFC 256 at Apex on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC)
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He'd better think about his striking defense, as Rozenstruik could be the second heaviest heavyweight puncher in the UFC after Ngannou. He has the ability to win any fight, any time, with any blow from both hands.
Gane said he knew that Rozenstruik's power was legitimate and that he was not opposed to it. But he also believes he has better footwork and a more complete overall game.
Both men have knockout victories against former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, with Gane defeating him in December and Rozenstruik in August.
Before dos Santos, Gane hadn't fought in a year, but he was constantly in the gym. He had planned a series of fights and then postponed or canceled them.
"It was difficult because a fight was canceled and we were told to stand ready because it was going to be pushed back a little," said Gane. “And so we stayed in the gym and worked and then it would happen again. So I only trained for five or six months in a row without anything going on.
"That was the difficulty, but I couldn't risk leaving the gym because who knew what was going to happen."
It turned out to be good, however, when he got the big win over dos Santos that put him in position for the Rozenstruik match. From the start - almost from the start - Lopez had little doubt that Gane would be capable of such great things.
When they first met, Gane told him he had fought a well-known heavyweight kickboxer. Lopez said he thought Gane was going to be hit badly. He said he even asked if Gane, who he said was thin at the time, was actually a heavyweight.
Lopez knew the French kickboxing scene and quickly came to the conclusion: Gane was going to get in trouble.
"I thought he was either a liar or he was going to be killed," Lopez said.
Gane won the fight in the first round with a flying knee and sent a newspaper clipping to Lopez, who was suddenly very impressed.
Gane told him he hoped to make it to the Glory kickboxing league, but Lopez persuaded him to take up MMA.
And Lopez believes Gane's decision will bring huge dividends in the near future.
"I told him if he gave me a couple of years I could make him the UFC champion," said Lopez. “And I believe that now more than ever. I really believe that and I think Ciryl is just beginning to show people the skills he really has. "
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