Ciryl Gane (-150) vs Francis Ngannou (+135)
I’m just about the last person to get caught up in hype, but make no mistake about it, this Saturday night features one of the best heavyweight title fights in years. A classic battle of technique vs intangibles, which makes for a highly intriguing matchup that is equally difficult to predict. The champion, Ngannou, opened as a small favorite before money poured in on the interim title holder, flipping the line. I can absolutely see why fans and pundits alike are favoring Gane, but I have some major concerns with his game that I just can’t overlook.
This fight should play out on the feet, with Gane looking to utilize his vastly superior arsenal and technique to pick apart his former teammate. At range, yes, he is the significantly better striker in terms of both variety and fundamentals. This should lead to at least moments of success and I would expect Gane to be the better round winner here. The difference is the speed and power coming back the other way. That is the great equalizer and at any moment everything can change. Gane will need to perform essentially perfectly for the first two rounds or so in order to avoid the killshot. Ngannou will be looking to blitz from range as well as explode with counters as Gane closes the distance. We’ve seen other high level kickboxer sfail miserably in these situations, such as Alistair Overeem and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, despite their vast technical advantages.
While most expect a range battle, I would not be surprised to see Cyril try his chances in the clinch. On paper, Gane has the better overall game, including strikes from that position. He has excellent elbows and nasty knees from inside. Further, that position limits Francis’ chances to land the hail mary KO shot, especially if the increased work there causes him to tire out early. However, there are two main issues with the strategy. First, Gane trends to lead with his head while closing the distance for clinches, which exposes him for a counter on the way in. Second, he drops his hands and raises his head while exiting the clinch, again leaving him open for strikes. Either one of those mistakes could cost him, ending the fight in an instant.So, while the clinch can be great for Gane, getting in and out of it could present serious issues.
We probably won’t see much grappling early on, given that Ngannou has greatly improved his takedown defense and Gane is only a serviceable takedown artist. Ngannou has improved his base, anti-wrestling strategies and scrambling ability over recent years and I expect those improvements to continue. Should the fight go late and Ngannou gasses, that’s a different story, and could be serious trouble for him. Cyril still needs to polish his grappling, but he has an aggressive top game, particularly with submissions. If he’s able to get a fatigued Ngannou down, there’s a real shot Cyril secures a choke, probably an an arm-triangle given how flat Francis can be on his back.
The cardio absolutely favors Gane, as we’ve seen him go the full five rounds at a steady pace without significantly slowing. The same cannot be said for Francis, who has repeatedly slowed down when fighting passed the second round. A key to Gane winning here will be taking Ngannou into deep waters and drowning him. Testing their boxing range early, while Ngannou is fresh and has full power, could be a death sentence. As a result, I expect a measured pace from Gane early.
Ultimately, I absolutely think Gane is the better overall fighter and by a decent margin. However, I cannot ignore some of his issues such as the frequent defensive lapses. In a fight that will very likely be standing for the first two rounds, I give a slight edge to Ngannou to find a home for the game changer at some point. If Francis only had the power on his side, I would go the other way. But the difference here is his combination of one-punch power plus surreal speed. Unless Gane lands something damaging early himself or fights flawlessly enough to take this deep, at some point within the first two rounds I think he’s probably getting slept. It’s an incredibly close fight and very tough to call, but my final prediction is Ngannou by KO within the first two rounds.
Francis Ngannou by KO +140