Ciryl Gane facing the pressure of needing a win at home in France's first UFC event
Fighting at home and headlining the first UFC show in Paris is like a Christmas and New Year’s celebration combined, former interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane said.
The top-rated Gane, who is coming off a loss in a heavyweight unification bout to Francis Ngannou, will meet slugger Tai Tuivasa in the main event of UFC Paris at sold-out Accor Arena. It will be the UFC’s 24th consecutive full-arena sellout, with nearly all of the 15,000-plus who have purchased tickets getting a first-hand look at the hometown hero.
Now, the last thing Gane wants is to be on the receiving end of one of Tuivasa’s thudding punches, because guys usually don’t get up for a while if they’re hit squarely by one of them. And so, he’ll resort to the style that has made him one of the most gifted, and successful, fighters in the world.
“Use the ‘Bon Gamin,’ style,” he said, referring to his nickname which, translated to English means "The Good Kid."
The Good Kid style is to use all of that athletic ability to put himself in range to connect and then to move out of range from return fire.
“It’s footwork, managing the distance, touch [Tuivasa] and never get touched,” he said. “That’s it.”
It’s easier said than done, especially with the pressure of an entire country on his shoulders. Everywhere he’s gone this week promoting the fight, he’s run into huge throngs, all wanting to slap him on the back, wish him well and encourage him on to victory.
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It’s the first UFC show in France after the French ministry of sport legalized mixed martial arts in the country on Jan. 1, 2020. In a promotional spot near the Eiffel Tour, he did a fake “shoey” with Tuivasa, pretending to drink beer out of a shoe (though if Tuivasa wins on Saturday, there will be no pretending going on).
Gane has all the physical tools he needs to win the fight, and the oddsmakers agree. At BetMGM, he’s a -550 favorite. He’s only +250 to win it in the first round and he’s +100 to win by KO/TKO/DQ. Tuivasa, one of the hardest hitters in the sport, is +600 to win by KO/TKO/DQ.
But Gane needs to move past his loss to Ngannou. He’s been asked about it incessantly and said it was a matter of maturity. Winning, he said, doesn’t leave one with questions and doubt. Losing does.
“When you win, there aren’t any questions in your head,” he said. “When you lose, it’s different. You have to ask yourself, ‘How can I fix it?’ ”
But he said he’s been motivated by the defeat and is eager to beat Tuivasa and get an opportunity to avenge his loss to Ngannou.
There isn’t an obvious path despite Gane’s No. 1 ranking in the division primarily because of the looming, monstrous presence of Jon Jones. Jones has moved to heavyweight and is eager for a fight. There has been talk he’d fight Ngannou in December, but Ngannou may not be healthy in time.
Ngannou fought Gane with a serious knee injury.
But there’s also the issue of former champion Stipe Miocic, who lost his title to Ngannou and has sought a rematch. The UFC for a while was looking at a Jones-Miocic match for the interim title, but that didn’t get made.
So Gane could be right back into a title shot with a win, or he could have to wait for a while as other fights play out.
All Gane can do is control what he does in the fight against Tuivasa and prove that he’s learned from the loss to Ngannou. It’s not like he was obliterated in that fight. Ngannou, arguably the hardest puncher in MMA history, used his wrestling in the second half of the fight to carry him to victory.
If you had asked 100 MMA experts before the Ngannou-Gane fight for the title if Ngannou would wrestle his way to a win, you’d probably have gotten at least 99 resounding nos.
Gane gets it, but he also knows he needs to be better and the fight with Tuivasa is a vehicle to show his improvement.
“I was close to the gold,” he said. “That was against the champion, the big champion, Francis Ngannou. So I think if I win against Tuivasa, I’m going to be right there.”
No matter how it plays out next, a win over Tuivasa will lead him into a mega-fight, whether it be a rematch with Ngannou, a bout with Miocic or a showdown with Jones.
Despite the odds that heavily favor him, those are three good reasons that Gane is entirely focused upon Tuivasa and Tuivasa only.
“Only Saturday matters,” he said. “After that, we’ll see.”