A fighter is only as strong as the weakest link in his skill set. It was a hard lesson to learn for Ciryl Gane during his unsuccessful bid for the vacant UFC heavyweight title. You see it in every sport. Football teams will march down the field by throwing at the weakest cornerback, baseball teams will intentionally walk the batter preceding a struggling hitter, and NBA teams will switch their stars onto the softest defender. The name of the game is always to attack your opponent's greatest weakness.
There will be one question on everybody’s mind when Gane makes the walk to the Octagon this Saturday. Has his grappling improved enough to allow him to compete at the highest level?
Gane (8-2 UFC) is best known for a technical striking arsenal that is built on a foundation of footwork, agility and power. His standup is a work of art, but in the biggest fight of his career (in March against Jon Jones), he was forced to submit only 2:04 after touching the canvas. Jones thoroughly dominated Gane and rendered him helpless on the mat, which left us with more questions than answers in terms of his grappling. His opponent Saturday, Serghei Spivac (UFC 7-3), should present a stiff enough challenge to reveal how far Gane has come in cleaning up his biggest weakness. Spivac has seven career submission wins in 16 career fights and landed six takedowns in each of his last two victories.
Gane is the clear favorite at -175 odds at BetMGM, while Spivac is +145 to pull off the upset. Gane will have over 15,000 fans behind him at the Accor Arena in his hometown of Paris. Can Spivac silence the crowd by keeping the heavyweight on his back?
Ciryl Gane (-175) vs. Serghei Spivac (+145)
When Jon Jones stood face-to-face with Francis Nngannou at a PFL event over the summer, the UFC heavyweight champion warned Ngannou that grappling isn’t something you just learn in a fight camp. It takes several years to master the technical nuance required to compete against the best in the world. That’s not to say that Gane will spend the next year or so helpless against the grapplers of the division, but his journey toward evolving into a more complete fighter is more of a process than an endeavor that yields immediate results. The million dollar question is how far along is he in that process, because Jones made it look like he never even started. We know that’s not the case, but we haven’t seen any visual progress to debunk that notion either.
That puts bettors in a tough spot with Gane listed as a -175 favorite. There are enough scenarios where the French heavyweight justifies the 63.6% implied probability, but none of it matters if Spivac can capitalize on his biggest weakness. With Gane’s grappling defense still a mystery, backing him at this price is banking on his ability to finish Spivac early in the fight. How much of a possibility is that?
Here’s the thing about mixed martial arts. Every fight starts standing. The onus is on Spivac to get it to the mat. Gane doesn’t move like your typical heavyweight. He will hold the athletic advantages, use his front-kicks to create space and punish his opponent while on the feet.
It’s far from a guarantee that Spivac will be able to close distance and drag Gane to where he is most vulnerable. Gane also has shown the ability to deliver damage in the clinch, an area that led to Spivac’s demise in his last loss to Tom Aspinall. But the longer the fight goes, the better the chances are that one of the Polar Bear’s takedowns bears results.
Bettors and bookmakers are expecting this one to end early. A round prop at BetMGM is listed at -165 for the fight to end under 2.5 rounds. That’s reflective of the huge advantages each fighter has over each other. The trouble I have with backing Gane at this price is historically he hasn't been an early finisher. Excluding his debut fight against Raphael Pessoa, Gane has seven victories in the UFC. Three of those wins have come via decision, and only one has ended before the 2.5-round mark (Junior Dos Santos, 2020).
The fight is literally a matter of who gets whom first. I’m betting Spivac has the ability to hold up on the feet until he drags Gane to the mat. Spivac may pay a steep price for his advances early, but his persistence will pay off when he ultimately lands a takedown. Gane stopping the initial shot is only half the battle. Spivac’s chain wrestling will force Gane to react instinctively and fall into the trap of giving himself up positionally, before succumbing to Spivac’s takedowns. We are going to learn alot about both fighters, but I’m confident that Spivac’s advantages warrant a bet on the underdog at +145.