I am in shock.
I imagine that a lot of people watched that fight between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane and left disappointed. But if that was you then you need to grow up and mature as a UFC fan. A great UFC fight isn’t just a huge knockout or a slugfest, although those are very fun.
Ngannou versus Gane was a fantastic fight, just not for the reasons we might have expected.
Going into this fight there were two possible outcomes for this fight that almost everyone universally agreed on. Either Ngannou was going to knock Gane out early or Gane was going to outlast Ngannou and win via decision. The way this bout actually played out in the octagon was completely different than what we expected.
To put it simply, Ngannou won this fight because he controlled the ground game. That was something he had never done before. All of Ngannou’s previous 16 MMA wins were via finish; every one of his fights that went to a decision was a loss. Ngannou landed four takedowns in this fight. He had attempted just three in his UFC career before Saturday night.
And that is why this fight was awesome, despite what some people might think. We witnessed the evolution of a fighter that was already good enough to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Imagine if Giannis Antetokounmpo learned how to shoot threes like Steph Curry. Or if Aaron Rodgers could run like Lamar Jackson. That is basically what we saw from Ngannou tonight. How could you not love that?
For a few rounds, we didn’t know that we were going to see that from Ngannou. After two rounds he looked a little tired. Gane was landing strikes more effectively and looked like he would control this fight until the end. It wasn’t completely surprising; it was one of the outcomes fans thought could happen.
But then Ngannou turned it on. And turned on something that we didn’t even know he had. For the first time ever, Gane found himself on his back inside the octagon (which I bet he was not expecting). These weren’t just lucky takedowns by Ngannou either, he was able to get him on the mat and control him for extended periods of time.
Despite the new shades of Ngannou’s game, this was still a very close fight heading into the final round. And in that final round, Gane had control on the ground. It seemed like it was over. For as far as Ngannou came and as much as he improved, it looked like the fight was going to end the way we expected.
But then something crazy happened (again). As Gane had control on the ground he went for a heel hook, a move he had won a match with before. He was looking to end the fight without the judges.
Maybe Gane was a little too ambitious with that heel hook because Ngannou was able to reverse it and regain control on the ground. I think Gane had no idea that Ngannou was capable of reversing that hold. I think Gane saw the possibility of a submission win over the heavyweight champion and didn’t see a way that backfires on him.
Well, it did backfire because Ngannou was somehow able to flip it around and get back on top. He was able to add to his control time, which ended up totaling 8:29, and ride out the rest of the round.
The judges then got to decide the fight and for the first time, Ngannou won via decision. Bruce Buffer announced him as “still” the heavyweight champion but that was not the same fighter as before. Ngannou is now a completely new fighter. He can still knock out anybody with the right strike but now he can do much more. Good luck to the rest of the division because there is no easy way to defeat this man inside the octagon.
The heavyweight championship match was not the only fight on the card but I will save some time by not talking about all of them. I do have to talk about the other championship fight though.
A lot of people were expecting an absolute slugfest on this card and it delivered, just not from the fight we expected. Instead of the 250-pound men throwing haymakers, we witnessed the two greatest 125-pound fighters in the world throwing bombs. Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo fought for the third straight time, this time with the flyweight championship up for grabs off of Moreno’s waist.
This fight had it all. It started out with some clinch work against the cage with both fighters sort of feeling each other out. Then we saw Figueiredo start unloading on Moreno with devastating calf kicks, which persisted through the 25 minutes. The first five minutes seemed to be a lot of sizing each other up, trying to find where the openings are in the other’s game and how to exploit them.
This was one of those fights where it looks like both competitors were created to fight each other. Every time Figueiredo landed a big shot, Moreno retaliated. Each time Moreno got the upper hand, Figueiredo had an answer. This was as back and forth as it could possibly have been.
The result is exactly what you would expect from two guys that equally matched: a down-to-the-wire brawl. There was one point at the end of the third round where Figueiredo knocked Moreno down where it seemed like it could possibly end, but alas it didn’t.
We were fortunate enough to get two more rounds of intense action from the fighters, leading up to another judge’s decision. This one was much harder to predict. Both guys had different times where they seemed like the winner. I thought Moreno had a slight edge and thought he would retain the belt, but the judge’s had something else in mind.
Figueiredo earned the decision win and the flyweight title back on some very close scorecards. Even if you feel like Moreno won the bout, which is the way I am leaning, it is hard to disagree with the idea that Figueiredo earned that championship.
He landed 95 strikes on over 53 percent striking, including 27 leg kicks. He also notched two takedowns and three knockdowns. The stats backed up Figueiredo’s case for the win, so I have no problem with him getting his hand raised.
What this decision leads us to is the possibility of a fourth installment of this rivalry. Usually, that would not even be considered (no matchup has ever happened four times in the UFC) but this is a unique situation. The first meeting between these two fighters ended in a majority draw, which means that they stand at a 1-1-1 record. Typically the third bout is the rubber match and decides who wins the rivalry, but in this case, that will be reserved for the fourth fight.
We have no idea if we are actually going to see Figueiredo-Moreno IV. As I mentioned, a fourth matchup between two fighters has never happened under the UFC umbrella before. But it seems like the most satisfying option for the company to make. Figueiredo even called for it himself, so we already have one person on board for the quadrilogy.